Clipping donated by Daniel Woodhead.
This 1872 account of the battle by General Custer is from a serialized version of Custer's 1874 book, My Life on the Plains that was published in "The Galaxy" in 1872-1874. The names and events in this account don't all track with army records of the scouts.
A Thrilling Story of American Heroism.
TOLD BY GENERAL CUSTER
Sandy Forsyth's Fight on the Republican River.
A SPARTAN BAND OF SCOUTS.
Nine Hundred Savages Whipped By Fifty White Men.
HOW LIEUT. BEECHER DIED.
A Wonderful Display of Bravery and Endurance.
(From the December Galaxy.)
The Winter of 1867-'68 was a period of comparative idleness and quiet, so far as the troops guarding the military posts on the Plains and frontier were concerned. The Indians began their periodical depreciations against the frontier settlers and overland emigrants and travelers early in the Spring of 1868, and continued them with little interruption or hindrance from any quarter until late in the Summer and Fall of that year. General Sully, an officer of considerable reputation as an Indian fighter, was placed in command of the district of the Upper Arkansas, which embraced the Kansas frontier and those military posts on the central plains most intimately connected with the hostile tribes. General Sully concentrated a portion of the troops of his command, consisting of detachments of the Seventh and Tenth Cavalry and Third Infantry, at points on the Arkansas river, and set on foot various scouting expeditions, but all to no purpose. The Indians continued as usual not only to elude the military forces directed against them, but to keep up their depredations upon the settlers of the frontier.
EXCITEMENT ALONG THE BORDER.
Great excitement existed along
the border settlements of Kansas and Colorado. The frequent massacres
of the frontiersmen and utter destruction of their homes created
a very bitter feeling on the part of the citizens of Kansas toward
the savages, and from the Governor of the State down to its humblest
citizen appeals were made to the authorities of the General Government
to give protection against the Indians, or else allow the people
to take the matter into their own hands and pursue retaliatory measures
against their hereditary enemies. General Sheridan, then in command
of that military department, with headquarters at Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas, was fully alive to the responsibilities of his position,
and in his usual effective manner set about organizing victory.
The mass of the troops being concentrated and employed along the branches of the Upper Arkansas under General Sully, thus leaving the valleys of the Republican, Solomon, and Smoky Hill rivers comparatively without troops, and the valleys of the Upper Republican being a favorite resort and camping ground for the hostile tribes of the upper plains, General Sheridan determined that, while devoting full attention to the Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Arapahoes and Southern Cheyennes, to be found south of the Arkansas, he would also keep an eye out for the Sioux, Upper Cheyennes and Arapahoes, and the "Dog Soldiers," usually infesting the valleys of the Upper Republican and Solomon rivers.
The "Dog Soldiers" were a band of warriors principally composed of Cheyennes, but made up of the turbulent and uncontrollable spirits of all the tribes. Neither they nor their leaders had ever consented to the ratification of any of the treaties to which their brothers of the other tribes had agreed. Never satisfied except when at war with the white man, they were by far the more troublesome, daring and warlike band to be found on the Plains. Their warriors were all fine-looking braves of magnificent physique, and in appearance and demeanor more nearly conformed to the ideal warrior than those of any other tribe. To operate effectually against these bands General Sheridan was without the necessary troops. Congress, however, had authorized the employment of detachments of frontier scouts to be recruited from among the daring spirits always to be met with on the border. It was upon a force raised from this class of our Western population that General Sheridan relied for material assistance.
Having decided to employ frontiersmen to assist in punishing the Indians, the next question was the selection of a suitable leader. The choice, most fortunately, fell upon General George A. Forsyth ("Sandy"), then Acting Inspector General of the Department of Missouri, who, eager to render his country an important service and not loath to share in the danger and excitement attendant upon such an enterprise, set himself energetically to work to raise and equip his command for the field. But little time was required, under Forsyth's untiring zeal, to raise the required number of men. It was wisely decided to limit the number of frontiersmen to fifty. This enabled Forsyth to choose only good men; and the size of the detachment, considering that they were to move without ordinary transportation - in fact were to almost adopt the Indian style of warfare - was as large as could be without being cumbersome. Last, but not least, it was to be composed of men who, from their leader down, were intent on accomplishing an important purpose; they were not out on any holiday tour of pleasure excursion. Their object was to find Indians; a difficult matter for a large force to accomplish, because the Indians are the first to discover their presence and take themselves out of the way; whereas with a small or moderate-sized detachment; there is some chances, as Forsyth afterward learned, of finding Indians.
THE SPARTAN BAND.
The Frontiersmen of the Kansas border, stirred up by numerous massacres committed in their midst by the savages, were only too eager and willing to join in an enterprise which promised to afford them an opportunity to visit just punishment upon their enemies. Thirty selected scouts were procured at Fort Harker, Kansas, and twenty more at Fort Hays, sixty miles further west. In four days the command was armed, mounted and equipped, and at once took the field. Lieutenant F. H. Beecher of the Third Regular Infantry, a nephew of the distinguished divine of the same name, and one of the ablest and best young officers on the frontier, was second in command; and a surgeon was found in the person of Dr. John S. Moyers of Hays City, Kansas - a most competent man in his profession, and who had had large experience during the war of the rebellion as surgeon of one of the volunteer regiments from the State of New York. Sharpe Grover, one of the best guides and scouts the Plains afforded was the guide of the expedition; while many of the men had at different times served in the regular and volunteer forces. For example, the man selected to perform the duties of First Sergeant of the detachment was Brevet Brigadier General W. H. H. McCall, United States Volunteers, who commanded a brigade at the time the Confederate forces attempted to break the Federal lines at Fort Hall, in front of Petersburg, in the early Spring of 1865, and was brevetted for gallantry on that occasion. As a general thing the men composing the party were just the class eminently qualified to encounter the dangers which were soon to confront them. They were brave, active hardy and energetic; and, while they required a tight rein held over them, were when properly handled, capable of accomplishing about all that any equal number of men could do under the same circumstances.
THEY LEAVE FORT HAYES.
The party left Fort Hayes on
the 29th of August, 1868, and, under special instructions from Major
General Sheridan, commanding the Department, took a northwesterly
course, scouting the country to the north of the Solomon, Prairie
Dog creek, and then well out toward the Republican river, and swinging
around in the direction of Fort Wallace made that post on the eighth
day from their departure. Nothing was met worthy of notice, but there
were frequent indications of large camps of Indians, which had evidently
been abandoned only a few days or weeks before the arrival of the
Upon arriving at Fort Wallace, General Forsyth communicated with General Sheridan and proceeded to refit his command. On the morning of September 10th, a small war party of Indians attacked a train near Sheridan, a small railroad town some eighty miles beyond Fort Wallace, killed two teamsters and ran off a few cattle. As soon as information of this reached Fort Wallace, Forsyth started with his command for the town of Sheridan, where he took the trail of the Indians and followed it until dark. The next morning it was resumed, until the Indians, finding themselves closely pursued, scattered in many directions and the trail became so obscure as to be lost. Determined, however, to find the Indians this time, if they were in the country, he pushed on to Short Nose creek, hoping to find them in that vicinity. Carefully scouting in every direction for the trail and still heading north as far as the Republican river, the command finally struck the trail of a small war party on the south bank of that stream, and followed it up to the forks of that river. This is familiar ground perhaps to some of my readers, as it was here Pawnee Killer and his band attacked our camp early one morning in the Summer of 1867, and hurried me from my tent without allowing me time to attend to my toilet.
ON THE TRAIL.
Continuing on the trail and crossing to the north bank, Forsyth found the trail growing constantly larger, as various smaller ones entered it from the south and north, and finally it developed into a broad and well beaten road, along which large droves of cattle and horses had been driven. This trail led up the Arickaree fork of the Republican river, and constant indications of Indians, in the way of moccasins, jerked buffalo meant, and other articles, were found every few miles, but no Indians were seen. On the evening of the eighth day from Fort Wallace, the command halted about 5 o'clock in the afternoon and went into camp at or near a little island in the river, a mere sand-pit of earth formed by the stream dividing at a little rift of earth that was a little more gravelly than the sand in its immediate vicinity, and coming together again about a hundred yards further down the stream, which just here was about eight feet wide and two or three inches deep. The water courses in this part of the country in the dry season are mere threads of water meandering along the broad sandy bed of the river, which, during the months of May and June, is generally full to its banks, and at that time capable of floating an ordinary ship, while later in the season there is not enough water to float the smallest row-boat. In fact in may places the stream sinks into the sand and disappears for a considerable distance, finally making its way up to the surface and flowing on until it again disappears and reappears many times in the course of a long day's journey.
Encamping upon the bank of the steam at this point - which at that time was supposed by the party to be Delaware creek, but which was afterward discovered to be Arickaree fork of the Republican river - the command made the usual preparations for passing the night. This point was but a few marches from Kidder's massacre. Having already been out from Fort Wallace eight days, and not taking wagons with them, their supplies began to run low, although they had been husbanded with great care. During the last three days game had been very scarce, which fact convinced Forsyth and his party that the Indians, whose trail they were following, had scoured the country and driven off every kink of game by their hunting parties. The following day would see the command out of supplies of all kinds; but feeling assured that he was within striking distance of the Indians, Forsyth was determined to push on until he found them, and fight them, even if he could not whip them, in order that they might realize that their rendezvous was discovered, and that the Government was at last in earnest when it said that they were to be punished for their depredations on the settlements.
"O HEAVENS GENERAL, LOOK AT THE INDIANS!"
After posting their pickets
and partaking of the plainest of suppers, Forsyth's little party
disposed of themselves on the ground to sleep, little dreaming who
was to sound their reveille in so unceremonious a manner.
At dawn the following day, September 17, 1868, the guard gave the alarm "Indians." Instantly every man sprang to his feet and with the true instinct of the frontiersman, grasped his rifle with one hand while with the other he seized his lariat, that the Indians might not stampede the horses. Six Indians dashed up toward the party, rattling bells, shaking buffalo robes, and firing their guns. The four pack mules belonging to the party broke away and were last seen galloping over the hills. Three other animals made their escape, as they had only been hobbled, in direct violation of the orders, which directed that all the animals of the command should be regularly picketed to a stake or picket pin, firmly driven into the ground. A few shots caused the Indians to sheer off and disappear in a gallop over the hills. Several of the men started in pursuit, but were instantly ordered to rejoin the command, which was ordered to saddle up with all possible haste, Forsyth feeling satisfied that the attempt to stampede the stock was but the prelude to a general and more determined attack. Scarcely were the saddles thrown on the horses and the girths tightened, when Grover, the guide, placing his hand on Forsyth's shoulder, gave vent to his astonishment as follows; "O heavens, General, look at the Indians!" Well might he be excited. From every direction they dashed toward the band. Over the hills, from the west and north, along the river, on the opposite bank, everywhere and in every direction they made their appearance. Finely mounted, in full war paint, their long scalp locks braided with eagles feathers, and with all the paraphernalia of a barbarous war party - with wild whoops and exultant shouts, on they came.
There was but one thing to do. Realizing that they had fallen into a trap, Forsyth, who had faced danger too often to hesitate in an emergency, determined that if it came to a Fort Fetterman affair, he should make the enemy bear their share of the loss. He ordered his men to lead their horses to the island, tie them to the few bushes that were growing there in a circle, throw themselves upon the ground in the same form, and make the best fight they could for their lives. In less time than it takes to pen these words, the order was put into execution. Three of the best shots in the party took position in the grass under the bank of the river which covered the north end of the island; the others formed a circle inside of the line of animals, and throwing themselves upon the ground began to reply to the fire of the Indians, which soon became hot and galling in the extreme. Throwing themselves from their horses, the Indians crawled up to within a short distance of the Island, and opened a steady and well-directed fire upon the party. Armed with the best quality of guns, many of them having the latest pattern breech loaders with fixed ammunition (as proof of this many thousand empty shells of Spencer and Henry rifle ammunition were found on the ground occupied by the Indians after the fight) they soon made sad havoc among the men and horses. As it grew lighter and the Indians could be distinguished, Grover expressed the greatest astonishment at the number of warriors, which he placed at nearly one thousand. Other members of the party estimated them at even a greater number. Forsyth expressed the opinion that there could not be more than four of five hundred, but in this it seems he was mistaken; as some of the Brules, Sioux and Cheyennes have since told him that their war party was nearly nine hundred strong, and was composed of Brules, Sioux, Cheyennes, and Dog Soldiers; furthermore, that they had been watching him for five days previous to their attack, and had called in all the warriors they could get to their assistance. The men of Forsyth's party began covering themselves at once, by using case and pocket knives in the gravelly sand, and soon had thrown up quite a little earthwork consisting of detached mounds in the form of a circle.
THE HOT WORK BEGAN.
About this time Forsyth was wounded by a Minie ball, which striking him in the right thigh, ranged upward, inflecting an exceedingly painful wound. Two of his men had been killed, and a number of others wounded. Leaning over to give directions to some of his men, who were firing too rapidly, and in fact becoming a little too nervous for their own good, Forsyth was again wounded, this time in the left leg, the ball breaking and badly shattering the bone midway between the knee and ankle. About the same time Dr. Moyers, the surgeon of the party, who owing to the hot fire of the Indians, was unable to render surgical aid to his wounded comrades, had seized his trusty rifle and was doing capital service, was hit in the temple by a bullet and never spoke but one intelligible word again. Matters were now becoming desperate and nothing but cool, steady fighting would avail to mend them. The hills surrounding the immediate vicinity of the fight were filled with women and children, who were chanting war songs and filling the air with whoops and yells. The medicine men, a sort of high priest, and older warriors rode around the outside of the combatants, being careful to keep out of range, and encouraged their young braves by beating a drum, shouting Indian chants and using derisive words toward their adversaries, whom they cursed roundly for skulking like wolves and dared to come out and fight like men.
Meantime the scouts were slowly but surely "counting game," and more than one Indian fell to the rear badly wounded by the rifles of the frontiersmen. Within an hour after the opening of the fight the Indians were fairly frothing at the mouth with rage at the unexpected resistance they met, while the scouts had now settled down to earnest work, and obeyed to the letter the orders of Forsyth, whose oft reiterated command was, "Fire slowly, aim well, keep yourselves covered, and above all don't throw away a single cartridge." Taken all in all, with a very few exceptions the men behaved superbly. Obedient to every word of command, cool, plucky, determined, and fully realizing the character of their foes, they were a match for their enemies thus far at every point. About 9 o'clock in the morning the last horse belonging to the scouts was killed, and one of the red skins, was heard to exclaim in tolerably good English, "There goes the last d----d horse, anyhow;" a proof that some of the savages had at some time be intimate with the whites. Shortly after 9 o'clock a portion of the Indians began to form in a ravine just below the foot of the island, and soon about 120 Dog Soldiers, the "banditti of the Plains," supported by some 300 or more other mounted men, made their appearance, drawn up just beyond rifle shot below the island and guided by the famous chief "Roman Nose," prepared to charge the scouts. Superbly mounted, almost naked, although in full war dress, and painted in the most hideous manner, with their rifles in their hands, and formed up with a front of about 50 men, they awaited their chief's signal to charge, with the greatest confidence. Roman Nose addressed a few words to the mounted warriors, and almost immediately afterward the dismounted Indians surrounding the island poured a perfect shower of bullets into the midst of Forsyth's little party. Realizing that a crisis was at hand, and hot work was before him, Forsyth told his men to reload every rifle and to take and load the rifles of the killed and wounded of the party, and not fire a shot until ordered to do so.
THE SAVAGES MAGNIFICENT CHARGE.
For a few moments the galling
fire of the Indians rendered it impossible for any of the scouts
to raise or expose any part of their persons. This was precisely
the effect that the Indians desired to produce by the fire of their
riflemen. It was this that the mounted warriors, under the leadership
of Roman Nose, were waiting for. The Indians had planned their assault
in a manner very similar to that usually adopted by civilized troops
in assailing a fortified place. The fire of the Indian riflemen performed
the part of the artillery on such occasions in silencing the fire
of the besieged and preparing the way for the assaulting column.
Seeing that the little garrison was stunned by the heavy fire of the dismounted Indians, and rightly judging that now, if ever, was the proper time to charge them, Roman Nose and his band of mounted warriors, with a wild, ringing war whoop, echoed by the women and children on the hills, started forward. On they came presenting, even in the brave men awaiting the charge, a most superb sight. Brandishing their guns, echoing back the cry of encouragement of their women and children on the surrounding hills and confident of victory, they rode bravely and recklessly to the assault. Soon they were within the range of the rifles of their friends, and of course the dismounted Indians had to slacken their fire for fear of hitting their own warriors. This was the opportunity for the scouts, and they were not slow to seize it. "Now," shouted Forsyth. "Now," echoed Beecher, McCall and Grover, and the scouts springing to their knees, and casting their eyes coolly along the barrels of their rifles opened, on the advancing savages as deadly a fire as the same number of men ever yet sent forth from an equal number of rifles. Unchecked, undaunted, on dashed the warriors; steadily rang the clear, sharp reports of the rifles of the frontiersmen. Roman Nose, the chief, is seen to fall dead from his horse, then Medicine Man is killed, and for an instant the column of braves, now within ten feet of the scouts, hesitates - falters.
A ringing cheer from the scouts,
who perceive the effect of their well-directed fire, and the Indians
begin to break and scatter in every direction, unwilling to rush
to a hand-to-hand struggle with the men who, although outnumbered,
yet knew how to make such effective use of their rifles. A few more
shots from the frontiersmen and the Indians are forced back beyond
range, and their first attack ends in defeat. Forsyth turns to Grover
anxiously and inquires, "Can they do better than that, Grover?" "I
have been on the Plains, General, since a boy, and never saw such
a charge as that before. I think they have done their level best," was
the reply. "All right," responds 'Sandy;' "then we are good for them."
So close did the advance warriors of the attacking column come in the charge that several of their dead bodies now lay within a few feet of the intrenchments. The scouts had also suffered a heavy loss in this attack. The greatest and most irreparable was that of Lieutenant Beecher, who was mortally wounded, and died at sunset of that day. He was one of the most reliable and efficient officers doing duty on the Plains. Modest, energetic and ambitious in his profession, had he lived he undoubtedly would have had a brilliant future before him; and had opportunity such as is offered by a great war ever have occurred, Lieutenant Beecher would have without doubt achieved great distinction. The Indians still kept up a continuous fire from their dismounted warriors, but as the scouts by this time were well covered by their miniature earthworks, it did little execution. At 2 o'clock in the afternoon the savages again attempted to carry the island by a mounted charge, and again at sunset; but having been deprived of their best and most fearless leader by the fall of Roman Nose, they were not so daring or impulsive as in the first charge and were both times repulsed with heavy losses. At dark they ceased firing and withdrew their forces for the night.
FORSYTH'S DEAD AND WOUNDED.
This gave the little garrison on the island an opportunity to take a breathing spell and Forsyth to review the situation and sum up how he had fared. The result was not consoling. His trusted Lieutenant Beecher was lying dead by his side; his surgeon, Moyers, was mortally wounded; two of his men killed, four mortally wounded, four severely and ten slightly. Here out of a total of fifty-one, were twenty-three killed and wounded. His own condition, his right thigh fearfully lacerated and his left leg badly broken, only rendered the other discouraging circumstances doubly so. As before stated, the Indians had killed all of his horses early in the fight. His supplies were exhausted and there was no way of dressing the wounds of himself or comrades, as the medical store had been captured by the Indians. He was about one hundred and two miles from the nearest post, and savages were all around him. The outlook could scarcely have been less cheering. But Forsyth's disposition and pluck incline him to speculate more upon that which is, or may be gained, than to repine at that which is irrevocably lost. This predominant trait in his character now came in good play. Instead of wasting time in vain regrets over the advantages gained by his enemies, he quietly set about looking up the chances in his favor. And let the subject be what it may, I will match "Sandy" against an equal number for making a favorable showing of the side which he espouses or advocates. To his credit account he congratulated himself and comrades, first upon the fact that they had beaten off their foes; second water could be had inside their intrenchments by digging a few feet below the surface; then for food, "horse and mule meat," to use Sandy's expression, "was lying around loose in any quantity;" and last but most important of all, he had plenty of ammunition. Upon these circumstances and facts Forsyth built high hopes of successfully contending against any renewed assaults of the savages.
A PERILOUS MISSION.
Two men, Trudeau and Stillwell, both good scouts and familiar with the Plains, were selected to endeavor to make their way through the cordon of Indians and proceed to Fort Wallace, 110 miles distant, and report the condition of Forsyth and party, and act as guides to the troops which would be at once sent to the relief of the besieged scouts. It was a perilous mission, and called for the display of intrepid daring, cool judgment and unflinching resolution, besides a through knowledge of the country, as much of their journey would necessarily be made during the darkness of night to avoid discovery by wandering bands of Indians, who, no doubt, would be on the alert to intercept just such parties going for relief. Forsyth's selection of the two men named was a judicious one. Stillwell, I afterward knew well, having employed him as scout with my command for a long period. At the time referred to, however, he was a mere beardless boy of perhaps nineteen years, possessing a trim, lithe figure, which was set off to great advantage by the jaunty suit of buckskin which he wore cut and fringed according to the true style of the frontiersman. In his waist belt he carried a large sized revolver, and hunting knife. These, with his rifle, constituted his equipment. A capital shot, whether afoot or on horseback, and a perfect horseman, this beardless boy on more than one occasion proved himself a dangerous foe to the wily red man. We shall not take final leave of Stillwell in this history. These two men, Trudeau and Stillwell, after receiving Forsyth's instructions in regard to their dangerous errand, and being provided with his compass and map, started as soon as it was sufficiently dark on their long, weary tramp over a wild, desert country, thickly infested with deadly enemies. After their departure the wounded were brought in, the dead animals unsaddled, and the horse blankets used to make the wounded as comfortable as possible. The earthworks were strengthened by using the dead animals and saddles. A well was dug inside of the intrenchments, and large quantities of horse and mule meat were cut off and buried in the sand to prevent it from putrefying. It began to rain, and the wounded were rendered less feverish by their involuntary but welcome bath.
THE FIGHT RENEWED.
As was expected, the night
passed without incident or disturbance from the savages, but early
the next morning the fight was renewed by the Indians again surrounding
the island as before, and opening fire from the rifles of their dismounted
warriors. They did not attempt to charge the island, as they had
done the previous day when their attempts in this direction had cost
them too dearly; but they were not the less determined and eager
to overpower the little band which had been the cause of such heavy
loss to them already. The scouts, thanks to their efforts during
the night, were now well protected and suffered but little from the
fire of the Indians, while the latter, being more exposed, paid the
penalty whenever affording the scouts a chance with their rifles.
The day was spent without any decided demonstration on the part of
the red men, except to keep up as constant a fire as possible on
the scouts and to endeavor to provoke the latter to reply as often
as possible, the object, no doubt, being to induce the frontiersmen
to exhaust their supply of ammunition. But they were not to be lead
into this trap; each cartridge they estimated as worth to them one
Indian, and nothing else would satisfy them.
On the night of the 18th two more men were selected to proceed to Fort Wallace, as it was not known whether Trudeau or Stillwell had made their way safely through the Indian lines or not. The last two selected, however, failed to elude the watchful eyes of the Indians and were driven back to the island. The placed a gloomy look upon the probable fate of Trudeau and Stillwell, and left the little garrison in anxious doubt not only as to the safety of the two daring messengers, but as to their own final relief. On the morning of the 19th the Indians promptly renewed the conflict, but with less energy than before.
They evidently did not desire
or intend to come to close quarters again with their less numerous
but more determined antagonists, but aimed as on the previous day
to provoke a harmless fire from the scouts, and then, after exhausting
their ammunition in this manner, overwhelm them by mass of numbers,
and finish them with tomahawk and scalping knife. This style of tactics
did not operate as desired. There is but little doubt that some of
the Indians who had participated in the massacre of Fetterman and
his party a few months before, when three officers and ninety-one
men were killed outright, were also present and took part in the
attack on Forsyth and his party; and they must have been not a little
surprised to witness the stubborn defense offered by this little
party, which, even at the beginning, numbered but little over fifty
About noon the women and children, who had been constant and excited spectators to the fight from the neighboring hilltops, began to withdraw. It is rare indeed that in an attack by Indians their women and children are seen. They are usually sent to a place of safety until the result of the contest in known, but in this instance, with the overwhelming numbers of the savages and the recollection of the massacre of Fetterman and his party, there seemed to the Indians to be but one result to be expected, ant that a complete, perhaps bloodless victory for them; and the women and children were permitted to gather as witness of their triumph, and perhaps at the close would be allowed to take part by torturing those of the white men who should be taken alive. The withdrawal of the women and children was regarded as a favorable sign by the scouts. Soon after and as a last resort the Indians endeavored to hold a parley with Forsyth by means of a white flag; but this device was too shallow and of too common adoption to entrap the frontiersmen, the object simply being to accomplish by stratagem and perfidy what they had failed in by superior numbers and open warfare. Everything now seemed to indicate that the Indians had had enough of the fight, and during the night of the third day it was plainly evident that they had about decided to withdraw from the contest.
Forsyth now wrote the following dispatch and after nightfall confided it to two of his best men, Donovan and Plyley; and they notwithstanding the discouraging result of the last attempt, set out to try and get through to Fort Wallace with it, which they successfully accomplished:
ON DELAWARE CREEK
September 19, 1868
To Colonel Bankhead or Commanding Officer, Fort Wallace
I sent you two messengers on the night of the 17th instant, informing you of my critical condition. I tried to send two more last night but they did not succeed in passing the Indian pickets and returned. If the others have not arrived then hasten at once to my assistance. I have eight badly wounded and ten slightly wounded men to take in and every animal I had was killed save seven which the Indians stampeded. Lieutenant Beecher is dead and Acting Assistant Surgeon Moyers probably cannot live the night out. He was hit in the head Thursday and has spoken but one rational word since. I am wounded in two places, in the right thigh and my left leg broken below the knee. The Cheyennes numbered 450 or more. Mr. Grover says they never fought so before. They were splendidly armed with Spencer and Henry rifles. We killed at least thirty-five of them and wounded many more, besides killing and wounding a quantity of stock. They carried off most of their killed during the night, but three of their men fell into our hands. I am on a little island and have still plenty of ammunition left. We are living on mule and horse meat and are entirely out of rations. If it was not for so many wounded, I would come in and take the chance of whipping them if attacked. They are evidently sick of their bargain. I had two of the members of my company killed on the 17th, namely William Wilson and George W. Calner. You had better start with not less than seventy five men and bring all the wagons and ambulances you can spare. Bring a six pound howitzer with you. I can hold out here for six days longer if absolutely necessary, but please lose no time.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
George A. Forsyth
U.S. Army, Commanding of Scouts
P.S. My surgeon having been mortally wounded, none of my wounded have had their wounds dressed yet, so please bring out a surgeon with you.
ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE.
A small party of warriors remained in the vicinity watching the movements of the scouts; the main body, however, had departed. The well men, relieved of the constant watching and fighting, were now able to give some attention to the wounded. Their injuries, which had grown very painful, were rudely dressed. Soup was made out of horse flesh, and shelters ere constructed protecting them from the heat, damp and wind. On the sixth day the wounds of the men began to exhibit more decided and alarming signs of neglect. Maggots infested them and the first traces of gangrene had set in. To multiply the discomforts of their situation, the entire party was almost overpowered by the intolerable stench created by the decomposing bodies of the dead horses. Their supply was nearly exhausted. Under these trying circumstances Forsyth assembled his men. He told them "they knew their situation as well as he. There were those who were helpless, but aid must not be expected too soon. It might be difficult for the messengers to reach the fort, or there might be some delay by their losing their way. Those who wished to go should do so and leave the rest to take their chances." With one voice thy resolved to stay, and if all hope vanished, to die together. At last the supply of jerked horse meat was exhausted and the chances of getting more was gone. By this time the carcasses of the animals were a mass of corruptions. There was no alternative - strips of putrid flesh were cut and eaten. The effect of this offensive diet was nauseating in the extreme. An experiment was made, with a view to improving the unpalatable flesh, of using gunpowder as salt, but to no purpose. The men allayed only their extreme craving of hunger, trusting that succor might reach them before all was over.
On the morning of September 25th the sun rose upon Forsyth and his famished party with unusual splendor, and the bright colors of the morning horizon seemed like a rainbow of promise to their weary, longing spirits. Hope, grown faint with long waiting, gathered renewed strength from the brightness of nature. The solitary plain receding in all directions possessed a deeper interest than ever before, though it still showed no signs of life and presented the same monotonous expanse upon which the heroic band had gazed for so many trying days. Across the dim and indefinable distance which swept in all directions the eye often wandered and wondered what might be the revelations of the next moment. Suddenly several dark figures appeared faintly on the horizon. The objects were moving. The question uppermost in the minds of all was, Are they savages or messengers of relief? As on such occasion of anxiety and suspense time wore heavily, minutes seemed like hours, yet each moment brought the sufferers nearer the realization whether this was their doom or their escape there from. Over an hour had elapsed since the objects first came in sight and yet the mystery remained unsolved. Slowly but surely they developed themselves, until finally they had approached sufficiently near for their character as friends or foes to be unmistakably established. To the joy of the weary watchers the parties approaching proved to be troops; relief was at hand, the dangers and anxieties of the past few days were ended and death either by starvation or torture at the hands of the savages no longer stared them in the face. The strong set up a shout such as men seldom utter. It was the unburdening of the heart of the weight of despair. The wounded lifted their fevered forms and fixed their glaring eyes upon the now rapidly approaching succor and in their delirium involuntarily but feebly reiterated the acclamations of their comrades. The troops arriving for their relief were a detachment from Fort Wallace under the command of Colonel Carpenter of the regular cavalry, and had started from the fort promptly upon the arrival of Trudeau and Stillwell with intelligence of the condition and peril in which Forsyth and his party were.
GAME TO THE LAST.
When Colonel Carpenter and his men reached the island they found its men in a most pitiable condition, yet the survivors were determined to be plucky to the last. Forsyth himself, with rather indifferent success affected to be reading an old novel that he had discovered in a saddlebag; but Colonel Carpenter said his voice was a little unsteady and his eyes somewhat dim when he held out his hand to Carpenter and bade him welcome to "Beecher's Island," a name that has since been given to the battleground. During the fight Forsyth counted thirty-two dead Indians within rifle range of the island. Twelve Indian bodies were subsequently discovered in one pit and five in another. The Indians themselves confessed to a loss of seventy-five killed in action, and when their proclivity for concealing or diminishing the number of their slain in battle is considered, we can readily believe that their actual loss in this fight must have been much greater than they would have us believe.
INCIDENTS OF THE FIGHT.
Of the scouts, Lieutenant Beecher,
Surgeon Moyers and six of the men were either killed outright or
died of their wounds; eight more were disabled for life; of the remaining
twelve who were wounded, nearly all recovered completely. During
the fight innumerable Interesting Incidents occurred, some laughable
and some serious. On the first day of the conflict a number of young
Indian boys from fifteen to eighteen years of age crawled up and
shot about fifty arrows into the circle in which the scouts lay.
One of those arrows struck one of the men, Frank Harrington, full
in the forehead. Not being able to pull it out, one of his companions,
lying in the same hole with him, cut off the arrow with his knife,
leaving the iron arrow head sticking out of his forehead. At that
moment a bullet struck him in the side of the head, glanced across
his forehead, impinged upon the arrow head, and the two, fastened
together, fell to the ground - a queer but successful piece of amateur
surgery. Harrington wrapped a cloth around his head, which bled profusely
and continued fighting as if nothing had happened.
Howard Morton, another of the scouts, was struck in the head by a bullet, which finally lodged in the rear of one of his eyes, completely destroying its sight forever; but Morton never faltered; but fought bravely until the savages finally withdrew. Hudson Farley, a young stripling of only 18, whose father was mortally wounded in the first day's fight, was shot through the shoulder, yet never mentioned the fact until dark, when the list of wounded was called for. McCall, the First Sergeant, Vilott, Clark, Farley the elder, and others who were wounded continued to bear their full share of the fight, not withstanding their great sufferings, until the Indians finally gave up and withdrew. These incidents of which many similar ones might be told only go to show the remarkable character of the men who composed Forsyth's party.
Considering this engagement in all its details and with all its attendant circumstances, remembering that Forsyth's party, including himself, numbered all told but fifty-one men, and that the Indians numbered about seventeen to one, this fight was one of the most remarkable and at the same time successful contests in which our forces on the Plains have ever been engaged; and the whole affair, from the moment the first shot was fired until the beleaguered party was finally relieved by Colonel Carpenter's command, was a wonderful exhibition of daring courage, stubborn bravery and heroic endurance, under circumstances of greatest peril and exposure. In all probability there will never occur, in our future hostilities with the savage tribes of the West, a struggle the equal of that in which were engaged the heroic men who defended so bravely "Beecher's Island." Forsyth, the gallant leader, after a long period of suffering and leading the life of an invalid for nearly two years, finally recovered from the effects of this severe wounds, and is now, I am happy to say, as good as new, contentedly awaiting the next war to give him renewed excitement.
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