My Life on the Plains, by Gen. George A. Custer

Chapter Twelve.

The Lot of Two White Captives.

THE close of the last chapter left my command in camp near General Sheridan's headquarters, at the point now known as Camp Supply, Indian Territory. We had returned on the second of December from the campaign of the Washita, well satisfied with the result of our labors and exposures; but we were not to sit quietly in our tents or winter quarters and give way to mutual congratulations upon the success which had already rewarded our efforts. The same spirit who in the Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1864 had so successfully inaugurated the "whirling" movement was now present, and it was determined that upon a slightly modified principle, reinforced by the biting frosts of winter, we should continue to press things until our savage enemies should not only be completely humbled, but be forced by the combined perils of war and winter to beg for peace and settle quietly down within the limits of their reservation.

     Such was the import of the closing sentences in the Congratulatory Order published by General Sheridan to the Seventh Cavalry and quoted in the preceding chapter. "The opening of the campaign against hostile Indians south of the Arkansas," were the words used. We have seen the opening; if the reader will accompany me I will endeavor to relate that which followed, introducing the principal events which, in connection with the battle of the Washita, resulted in forcing all the hostile Indians south of the Arkansas to a condition of comparative peace, and gave peace and protection to that portion of our frontier which had so long suffered from their murderous and thieving raids.

     In less than one week from the date of our arrival at Camp Supply, we were to be again in the saddle and wending our way southward toward the supposed winter haunts of our enemies-this time, however, with more than double our former numbers. So long had the thrifty and enterprising settlers upon the frontier of Kansas, particularly those who had selected homes in the fertile valleys of the Saline, Solomon, and Republican rivers, been subjected to the depredations of the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Apaches, Kiowas, and Sioux, and so frequent had the murder and capture of settlers by these Indians become, that the citizens and the officials of the State felt forced to take measures In their own defense, and for the purpose of uniting with the forces of the General Government in the attempt to give quiet and protection to life and property to the inhabitants of the border settlements.

     The last needed impulse to this movement on the part of the people of Kansas was given when the Indians late in the preceding summer made two raids upon the settlements in the Saline, Solomon, and Republican valleys, and, after murdering many of the men and children, burning houses, and destroying or capturing a vast amount of stock, carried off into captivity two young women or girls, both belonging to highly respected families residing on the exposed border of the State. Although one of the captives was married, her marriage to a farmer having been celebrated less than one month prior to the day of her unfortunate capture by the Indians, yet neither of them could scarcely be said to have passed the line which separates girlhood from womanhood. Mrs. Morgan, the bride, was but nineteen, while her companion in misfortune, Miss White, was still her junior by a year or more. As they played no unimportant part in subsequent operations against the Indians the principal events attending their capture may not be out of place.

     Neither knew the other nor had they ever seen each other until they met as captives in an Indian village hundreds of miles from their frontier homes. One can readily imagine with what deep interest and mutual sympathy the acquaintance of these two helpless girls began. Miss White had been captured and carried to the Indian village about one month before the capture of Mrs. Morgan occurred. The brief story of the capture of the former is soon told. One day, her father being at work in the field, she and a younger sister were engaged in the garden, where she saw four Indians entering the house where her mother and the younger children of the family were. Her first impulse was to fly, but seeing an Indian on the opposite side of the garden she turned and entered the house. One or two of the Indians could speak broken English; all of them assumed a most friendly demeanor and requested something to eat. This request was met by a most prompt and willing response upon the part of Mrs. White and her children. With true western hospitality they prepared for their unbidden guests as bountifully as the condition of the larder would permit. No depredations had been committed in that vicinity for some time, and as it was not an unusual occurrence for small parties of Indians when engaged on hunting excursions to visit the settlements, where they invariably met with kind treatment at the hands of the settlers, it was hoped that after obtaining the desired meal the party would quietly withdraw without committing any depredations.

     Such, however, was not the intention of the savages. Already on that day their hands had been dipped in the white man's blood, and the peaceful procurement of something to appease their hunger was merely the dropping of the curtain between two acts of a terrible drama. Having satisfied the demands of their appetites, it was then time for them to throw aside the guise of friendship under which they had entered the house and been treated as favored guests, and to reveal the true object of their visit. Two stalwart warriors grasped Miss White in their arms and rushed toward the door. Neither her shrieks nor the feeble resistance she was able to offer retarded their movements. As she found herself being rapidly carried from the house the last glimpse she obtained of those within revealed her mother engaged in an unequal struggle with a powerful warrior, while another of the savages had felled a younger sister to the floor and was there engaged in destroying such articles of furniture or table-ware as he could lay hands upon. Her two captors hurried her from the house, hastened to the spot where they had left their ponies, and after binding their captive upon the back of one of their ponies and being joined by the others of the party, began their flight from the settlements, well knowing that the alarm would soon be given, and pursuit by the enraged settlers would be the result.

     Amid the terrible surroundings of her own situation, the anxieties of the fair captive to know the fate of the dear ones left behind must have been unspeakable. I can scarcely imagine a more deplorable fate than that of which this defenseless girl had become the victim. Torn from her home amid scenes of heartrending atrocities, distracted with anxious thoughts as to the fate which had befallen her mother and sisters, she now found herself a helpless prisoner in the hands of the most cruel, heartless, and barbarous of human enemies. Unable to utter or comprehend a word of the Indian language, and her captors only being able to express the most ordinary words in broken English, her condition was rendered the more forlorn, if possible, by her inability to communicate with those in whose power she found herself.

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     The village to which Miss White's captors belonged was located at that time south of the Arkansas River, and distant from her home at least three hundred miles. How many girls of eighteen years of age possess the physical ability to survive a journey such as lay before this lonely captive? Unprovided with a saddle of any description, she was mounted upon an Indian pony and probably required to accomplish nearly, if not quite, one hundred miles within the first twenty-four hours, and thus to continue the tiresome journey with but little rest or nourishment. Added to the discomforts and great fatigue of the journey was something more terrible and exhausting than either. The young captive, although a mere girl, was yet sufficiently versed in the perils attending frontier life to fully comprehend that upon her arrival at the village a fate awaited her more dreadful than death itself. She realized that if her life had been spared by her savage captors it was due to no sentiment of mercy or kindness on their part, but simply that she might be reserved for a doom far more fearful and more to be dreaded than death.

     The capture of Mrs. Morgan occurred about one month later and in the same section of country, and the story of her capture is in its incidents almost a repetition of that of Miss White. Her young husband was engaged at work in a field not far from the house when the crack of a rifle from the woods near by summoned her to the door. She barely had time to see her husband fall to the ground, when she discovered several Indians rushing toward the house. Her first impulse was to seek safety in flight, but already the Indians had surrounded the house, and upon her attempting to escape one of the savages felled her to the ground by a blow from his war club and she lost all consciousness. When she recovered her senses it was only to find herself bound upon the back of a pony which was being led by a mounted warrior, while another warrior rode behind and urged the pony she was mounted upon to keep up the trot. There were about fifty warriors in the party, nearly all belonging to the Cheyenne tribe, the others belonging to the Sioux and Arapahoes. As in the case of the capture of Miss White, a rapid flight immediately followed the capture.

     It was the story oft repeated of outrages like these, but particularly of these two, that finally forced the people of Kansas to take up arms in their own defense. Authority was obtained from the General Government to raise a regiment of cavalry, whose services were to be accepted for a period of six months. So earnest and enthusiastic had the people of the frontier become in their determination to reclaim the two captives, as well as administer justly-merited punishment, that people of all classes and callings were eager to abandon their professions and take up arms against the traditional enemy of the frontier. The Governor of the State, Hon. S. J. Crawford, resigned the duties of the Executive of the State into the hands of the Lieutenant-Governor, and placed himself at the head of the regiment which was then being organized and equipped for service during the winter campaign.

     After the return of the Seventh Cavalry from the Washita campaign we were simply waiting the arrival at Camp Supply of the Kansas volunteers before again setting out to continue the campaign whose opening had begun so auspiciously. Severe storms delayed the arrival of the Kansas troops beyond the expected time. They reached Camp Supply, however, in time for the 7th of December to be fixed upon as the date of our departure. My command, as thus increased, consisted of eleven companies of the Seventh United States Cavalry; ten companies of the Nineteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, Colonel S. J. Crawford commanding; a detachment of scouts under Lieutenant Silas Pepoon, Tenth Cavalry; and between twenty and thirty whites, Osage and Kaw Indians, as guides and trailers. As our ultimate destination was Fort Cobb, Indian Territory, where we would obtain a renewal of our supplies after the termination of our proposed march, and as General Sheridan desired to transfer his headquarters "in the field" to that point, he decided to accompany my command, but generously declined to exercise any command of the expedition, merely desiring to avail himself of this opportunity of an escort without rendering a detachment for that purpose necessary; and, as he remarked when announcing his intention to accompany us, he simply wished to be regarded as a passenger.

     The day prior to our departure I was standing in front of my tent when a young man probably twenty-one or two years of age accosted me and began a conversation by inquiring when I expected the expedition would move. Any person who has had much to do with expeditions in the Indian country knows how many and how frequent are the applications made to the commanding officer to obtain employment as scouts or guides. Probably one in fifty of the applicants is deserving of attention, and if employed would prove worthy of his hire. Taking but a glance at the young man who addressed me, and believing him to be one of the numerous applicants for employment, my attention being at the time absorbed with other matters I was in no mood to carry on a conversation which I believed would terminate in an offer of services not desired. I was disposed to be somewhat abrupt in my answers, but there was something in the young man's earnest manner, the eagerness with which he seemed to await my answers, that attracted and interested me. After a few questions on his part as to what portion of the country I expected to march through, what tribes I might encounter, and others of a similar nature, he suddenly said: "General, I want to go along with you."

     This only confirmed my first impression, although from his conversation I soon discovered that he was not one of the professional applicants for employment as a scout or guide, but more likely had been seized with a spirit of wild romance and imagined the proper field for its display would be discovered by accompanying an expedition against the Indians. Many instances of this kind had previously fallen under my observation and I classed this as one of them; so I simply informed him that I had already employed as many scouts and guides as were required and that no position of that character, or any other in fact, was open to him. Not in the least discouraged by this decided refusal, he replied: "But you do not understand me; I do not desire employment in your command, nor any position requiring pay. I only ask permission to accompany your expedition. I have neither arms nor horse; if you will furnish me these and permit me to go with you I will serve you in any capacity I can, and will expect no pay."

     My curiosity was now excited; I therefore pressed him to explain his motive in desiring to accompany the expedition.

     "Well, I'll tell you; it's a sad story. About four months ago the Indians attacked my home and carried off my only sister, a girl nineteen years of age. Since that day I have heard not a word as to what has become of her. I know not whether she is among the living or dead; but when I think of what must be her fate if among the living, I am almost tempted to wish she was quietly resting among the dead. I do not even know what tribe was engaged in her capture, but hearing of your expedition I thought it might afford me the means of getting some clue to my sister's fate. You may have a council with some of the chiefs, or some of the prisoners you captured at the battle of the Washita may tell me something of her; or if I can only learn where she is, perhaps you can exchange some of your prisoners for her; at any rate, the only chance I have to learn anything concerning her is by being permitted to accompany your expedition."

     Of course he was permitted to accompany the expedition; not only that, but he was provided with a horse and arms and appointed to a remunerative position. I asked him why he had not informed me at first as to his object in desiring to go with us. He replied that he feared that if it was known that he was in search of a lost sister and we should afterward have interviews with the Indians, as we certainly would at Fort Cobb, he might not be as successful in obtaining information as if the object of his mission was unknown.

     The name of this young man was Brewster, and the lost sister in whose search he was so earnestly engaged was Mrs. Morgan, whose capture has already been described. From him I learned that Mrs. Morgan's husband, although shot down at the first fire of the Indians, was in a fair way to recover, although crippled probably for life. But for his wounds, he too would have joined the brother in a search for the sister and for his bride, whose honeymoon had met with such a tragic interruption. Young Brewster remained with my command during the entire winter, accompanying it and every detachment made from it in the eager hope to learn something of the fate of his sister. In his continued efforts to discover some clue leading to her he displayed more genuine courage, perseverance, and physical endurance, and a greater degree of true brotherly love and devotion, than I have ever seen combined in one person. We will hear from him as the story progresses.

     It was decided to send the captives taken at the Washita to Fort Hays, Kansas, where they could not only be safely guarded, but be made far more comfortable than at Camp Supply. Before the expedition moved I suggested to General Sheridan that I should take with the expedition three of the squaws who were prisoners in our hands, with a view to rendering their services available in establishing communication with the hostile villages, if at any time this should become a desirable object. General Sheridan approved of the suggestion and I selected three of the captives who were to accompany us. The first was Mah-wis-sa, the sister of Black Kettle, whose acquaintance the reader may have formed in the preceding chapter; the second was a Sioux squaw, probably fifty years of age, whom Mah-wis-sa expressed a desire to have accompany her, and who at times was disposed to be extremely communicative in regard to the winter resorts of the various tribes and other matters connected with the purposes of the expedition. The third was the daughter of Little Rock, the chief second in rank to Black Kettle, who had been killed at the battle of the Washita.

     Little Rock's daughter was an exceedingly comely squaw, possessing a bright, cheery face, a countenance beaming with intelligence, and a disposition more inclined to be merry than one usually finds among the Indians. She was probably rather under than over twenty years of age. Added to bright, laughing eyes, a set of pearly teeth, and a rich complexion, her well-shaped head was crowned with a luxuriant growth of the most beautiful silken tresses, rivalling in color the blackness of the raven and extending, when allowed to fall loosely over her shoulders, to below her waist. Her name was Mo-nah-se-tah, which, anglicized, means "The young grass that shoots in the spring." Mo-nah-se-tah, although yet a maiden in years and appearance, had been given in marriage, or, more properly speaking, she had been traded in marriage, as an Indian maiden who should be so unfortunate as to be given away would not be looked upon as a very desirable match. In addition to her handsome appearance both in form and feature and to any other personal attraction which might be considered peculiarly, her own, Mo-nah-se-tah, being the daughter of a chief high in rank, was justly considered as belonging to the cream of the aristocracy, if not to royalty itself; consequently the suitors who hoped to gain her hand must be prepared, according to the Indian custom, to pay handsomely for an alliance so noble. Little Rock, while represented as having been a kind and affectionate father, yet did not propose that the hand of his favorite daughter should be disposed of without the return of a due equivalent.

     Among the young warriors of the tribe there were many who would have been proud to call Mo-nah-se-tah to preside over the domestic destinies of their lodge, but the price to be paid for so distinguished an alliance was beyond the means of most of them. Among the number of young braves who aspired to the honor of her hand was one who, so far as worldly wealth was concerned, was eligible. Unfortunately, however, he had placed too much reliance upon this fact, and had not thought that while obtaining the consent of paterfamilias it would be well also to win the heart of the maiden ; or perhaps he had, in seeking her hand, also attempted to gain her heart, but not meeting with the desired encouragement from the maiden of his choice was willing to trust to time to accomplish the latter, provided only he could secure the first. According to Indian custom the consent of the bride to a proposed marriage, while it may be ever so desirable, is not deemed essential. All that is considered absolutely essential is that the bridegroom shall be acceptable to the father of the bride, and shall transfer to the possession of the latter ponies or other articles of barter in sufficient number and value to be considered a fair equivalent for the hand of the daughter. When it is stated that from two to four ponies are considered as the price of the average squaw, and that the price of the hand of Mo-nah-se-tah as finally arranged was eleven ponies, some idea can be formed of the high opinion entertained of her.

     It proved, however, so far as the young warrior was concerned an unsatisfactory investment. The ponies were transferred to Little Rock and all the formalities were duly executed which by Indian law and custom were necessary to constitute Mo-nah-se-tah the wife of the young brave. She was forced to take up her abode in his lodge, but refused to acknowledge him as her husband, or to render him that obedience and menial service which the Indian husband exacts from his wife. Time failed to soften her heart, or to cause her to look kindly, upon her self-constituted but unrecognized lord and master.

     Here was a clear case of incompatibility of disposition; and within the jurisdiction of some of our State laws a divorce would have been granted almost unquestioned. The patience of the young husband having become exhausted, and he having unsuccessfully resorted to every measure of kindness deemed likely to win the love and obedience of his wife, he determined to have recourse to harsher measures-if necessary, to employ force. Again he mistook the character of her upon whose apparently obdurate heart neither threats nor promises had produced the faintest effect. Mo-nah-se-tah had probably been anticipating such a decision and had prepared herself accordingly. Like most Indian women, she was as skilful in the handling and use of weapons as most warriors are; and when her husband, or rather the husband who had been assigned to her, attempted to establish by force an authority which she had persistently refused to recognize she reminded him that she was the daughter of a great chief and rather than submit to the indignities which he was thus attempting to heap upon her she would resist even to the taking of life; and suiting the action to the word, she levelled a small pistol which she had carried concealed beneath her blanket and fired, wounding him in the knee and disabling him for life.

     Little Rock, learning of what had occurred and finding upon investigation that his daughter had not been to blame, concluded to cancel the marriage-to grant a divorce which was accomplished simply by returning to the unfortunate husband the eleven ponies which had been paid for the hand of Mo-nah-se-tah. What an improvement upon the method prescribed in the civilized world! No lawyer's fees, no publicity nor scandal; all tedious delays are avoided, and the result is as nearly satisfactory to all parties as is possible.

     Having sent a messenger to ask the three Indian women referred to to come to my tent, I acquainted them with my intention of taking them with the expedition when we moved in search of the hostile villages. To my surprise they evinced great delight at the idea, and explained it by saying that if they accompanied us they might be able to see or communicate with some of their people, while by remaining with the other prisoners and becoming farther separated from their own country and hunting-grounds they could entertain little or no hope of learning anything concerning the fate of other portions of their tribe. They gladly acceded to the proposition to accompany the troops. I then inquired of them in which mode they preferred to travel, mounted upon ponies as was their custom, or in an ambulance. Much to my surprise, remembering how loath the Indian is to adopt any contrivance of the white man, they chose the ambulance, and wisely, too, as the season was that of midwinter and the interior of a closely covered ambulance was a much less exposed position than that to be found on the back of a pony.

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