July 18, 1864 - Return from Fort Kearney - Indians at Cottonwood - Council Overdue - Preparation to March - General Mitchell Arrives - Pawnee Battalion - The Council Meadow, July 19, 1864 - The Council - The Flight of the Indians - The Return to Cottonwood - Start for Fort Laramie - Camp at Jack Morrow's - Ben Gallagher and John Smith - Line of March
WHEN I got back to the post, July 18, 1864, as stated in the former chapter, I found camped two miles up the river a large number of Sioux Indians of various bands, all avowedly friendly, with some few Cheyennes, so it was stated, among them. The Sioux had come to bold the third and final council, adjourned to fifty days from the second. The council was three or four days overdue, General Mitchell being absent, and the Indians had waited and been fed in the mean time. The presence of this large body of Indians near the post practically blockaded the road at this point, hence the number of travelers at the post, and hence the dance of which I spoke. The Indians appeared quiet, but rumor had it that there were more "buck" Indians there than usual, and but few squaws and no small children. Nobody felt quite safe, and the post was carefully guarded and picketed, and the pilgrims and the travelers were organized for complete defense. "Hunter" and John Smith had been up to the camp and seen the Indians and tried to talk with them, but found them to be unsociable and non-communicative, and reported their belief that the third council would be a failure. General Mitchell was reported as coming up the river with a battalion of Pawnee Indian scouts, said to be 200 in number, but in fact about 80. Trouble was feared, although we knew we could repulse any Indian attack.
General Mitchell arrived early in the forenoon of July 19, 1864, with Company "D" of our regiment, as an escort, and Lieutenant John K. Rankin, a very brave and capable cavalry officer from Kansas, who had served down South, and from the very beginning of the war. He now resides at Lawrence, Kansas. General Mitchell left the Pawnee scouts back about three miles in camp, but came in with his escort, Company "D," an ambulance and two horses, one extra each for himself and Lieutenant Rankin.
As both the Sioux and Cheyennes were now committing overt acts through the raiding parties of their young men, General Mitchell seemed to think that a council would be unproductive of results. Upon consultation he determined that he would not risk a failure, lest it might result in immediate trouble; but he thought that he would try his Pawnee Indian peace scheme and see how it would work. He had to try something, so that the Indians would not think they had come on a fool's errand. So he sent word to the Sioux to send their chiefs and head-men to an arroyo two miles east of the Post, and be there at two o'clock with the officer as a pilot and guard, who was sent with the message. This was Lieutenant Rankin, who had the interpreter "Snell" (Watts) with him. Then Mitchell caucussed with his officers and prepared his plans.
There was a very wide grassy meadow three miles east of our Post and the arroyo was on the west side of it. The Sioux Indians began moving, and instead of a few going east to the place of rendezvous they all went, tepees, horses, dogs and all; and at two o'clock every Indian in the country round about, that we knew of, was there. They were all ready for traveling, and were racing their horses around and yelling, and evidently some of them had obtained some pilgrim whisky. A mile east of them was the "Pawnee Battalion," in a close group, with their horses all saddled and in hand. Between the two gangs of Indians was the escort of the General, already referred to, composed of Company "D" -- 65 men, of our regiment. The Pawnees and the Sioux had been engaged in exterminating each other for several years.
Finally the Sioux party crossed the Arroyo, came east a little, and spread out towards the river, with everything in seeming readiness for a hasty movement, and they began shouting at the Pawnees, and the Pawnees, feeling safe, began shouting back. Up at the Post all of the soldiers were out under arms, and mounted, with Major O'Brien in command. All of the pilgrim trains were corralled and the men prepared and ready for trouble. General Mitchell left the Post before two o'clock and went down to the rendezvous, the grassy meadow, taking with him one hundred men from the Post of which fifty men were from our company, "F," and fifty from Company "C," the latter being under the command of its first sergeant. Captain O'Brien rode with General Mitchell and I took charge of the detail from our company, together with one of our brass howitzers. With General Mitchell rode all the interpreters he could get, about ten. General Mitchell was worried and angry.
Captain North, of Columbus, Nebraska, of whom I have already spoken, was in command of the Pawnee Battalion, and said he preferred war to peace with the Sioux. He understood and spoke the Pawnee language well, and had with him two other men who could do the same.
As General Mitchell came down with his troops and took a position on the side of the wagon-road, a little distance south of the meadow, the Indians on both sides seemed uneasy and began milling around on horseback and edging up nearer and nearer to one another, shouting and yelling at each other like a lot of demons.
The first thing that General Mitchell did was to run a long thin line of cavalry from Company "C" between the Indians clear down through to the river. They were set about fifty yards apart from each other and were faced alternately east and west, with drawn sabres that flashed in the sun. Then General Mitchell ordered the howitzer to be unlimbered and loaded with shrapnel, with fuse cut two seconds. He then through the interpreters ordered the Indians on both sides to get back. Then he ordered a soldier to go forward to the center, take his sabre and stab it in the ground and leave it there to mark a talking-place; this the soldier did by sticking it in a big ant-hill that happened to be at about the right place. This sabre standing there stuck into the ground marked the talking-place. Then through the interpreters the General ordered each side to send their speakers dismounted and unarmed, not exceeding ten in number, to places on each side about one hundred feet from the center. He told them also that he would make a speech, as directed by the Great Father at Washington, and then he wanted to bear from them alternately, beginning with the Sioux. The stations on each side of the center for the oratorical delegates were marked out, and the delegates from each side took their respective places, coming from their tribes on foot with a slow, pompous step. When they had taken their stations, General Mitchell, in full uniform, in an imposing way, on his magnificent mahogany-bay horse, rode out to the center, which was about one hundred yards north. Close behind him was Captain O'Brien, all togged out, finely mounted and looking like a duke. With him was our company bugler. Behind them rode two interpreters for the Sioux language and two for the Pawnee. The General on arriving at the center halted, turned and saluted the Sioux, then turned and saluted the Pawnees; then he gave a signal to the bugler; he came forward and gave some loud bugle-calls to the Pawnees, then turned and gave the same thing to the Sioux. Then by command of the General, after about two minutes of dignified silence had elapsed the bugler passed to the rear and sounded, "Forward," at which signal I moved up with my detail, as did also the howitzer and about a dozen citizens and the escort Company "D" and the balance of Company "C." Altogether there were about one hundred and ninety white men, eighty Pawnees, and about four hundred Sioux and their associates. The white command was drawn up to within about fifty feet of the General, and by his order the howitzer was put in position, pointing at the Sioux and masked in between an open-order arrangement of the cavalry.
The General had been advised to put as much pomp and ceremony into the proceedings as possible, and right well he did it. When all was arranged and in order, he directed the interpreters to come out in front of him, and then he, sitting on his horse, facing north, turning neither to the right nor left, nor towards the Indians, began his speech. He stopped at the end of each sentence, and the head interpreter shouted and translated the sentence to the Sioux. Then the other interpreter did the same thing, shouting the translation to the Pawnees. It was very deliberate, and plenty of time was given after each sentence for the Indians to get it straight among themselves. The general had told the interpreters what his speech was, and they had the translation all studied out. I was where I could hear it all, and it was easy for me to write it down, it went so slowly. His words were as follows.
"Brothers: The Great Father in Washington sends me here to tell you that it makes his heart ache to see his red children fighting with each other. [Pause.]
"He wants to see them all living in peace with each other, for they are all equally his children. [Pause.]
"There is land enough and water enough and game enough and grass enough for all. [Pause.]
"The Great Father wants his red children to live peaceably with his white children and with each other, because they are all brothers. [Pause.]
"As long as the red children war with each other they cannot make progress, nor have so much to eat, nor as many horses, nor as many children. [Pause.]
"The Great Father Wants to see his red children to become numerous, and have horses and cattle and children, and plenty to eat. [Pause.]
"He wants you to pledge yourselves on each side not to interfere with each other's hunting parties, and not to cross the neutral strip on the north side of the Platte. [Pause.]
"And he wants you both to promise not to steal each other's horses, and not to kill each other, and not to prowl around each other's villages. [Pause.]
"Then, if you do this, the Great Father will be glad because you obey him, and he will help you, and if you suffer he will have rations issued to you so that you will not starve. [Pause.]
"Now, speak out your minds on this subject, and talk straight and say what you will do, so that I may tell the Great Father what you think, and how you feel and what you will do. [Pause.]
"If you do not agree, I will speak again."
Here the General stopped, but he never got a chance to carry out the threat of his last sentence. Having finished and the last word having been interpreted and delivered, the General gave a signal to the trumpeter, and he came forward as before and gave a blast to each side. Then a very awkward silence set in, and for ten minutes not an Indian stirred. There was a decorum and deliberation to the actions of the Indians that impressed us all that the General had undertaken an embarrassing and difficult job. The waiting became oppressive, and the Indians were grouped together in a compact and motionless mass on each side. After the General spoke, then one Indian from each speaking station went back to tell his people what the General had said, but the Indians kept silent after receiving the messages.
Finally, a Sioux dressed and decorated with eagle feathers and paint came forward to the center where the sabre was sticking in the ant-hill. He carried something that looked like a long buckskin bag with a cane in it. He began to talk slowly, and his words were first translated into English and then by another interpreter shouted to the Pawnees in their own language.
This first speaker opened out in a conciliatory way which promised well. He said that he wanted to please the Great Father and wanted to please General Mitchell. He did not think that the Pawnees amounted to much, and was willing to leave them alone. Then he went into a swaggering talk of how great a nation the Sioux were, and how brave they were. It looked as if he were talking one word at the Pawnees and two at General Mitchell. The latter sat on his horse, looked disgusted and said nothing.
The Sioux speaker went back to his station, and after a long, deliberate wait, out came a Pawnee, bareheaded and with a pair of blue army trousers on. He proceeded to say that the Pawnees in olden times had owned all of the land south of the Platte, even the country they were then standing on, but that smallpox had scourged them and they were now settled on land which they liked, and which the white man conceded them, and that they preferred peace, and would be willing to live at peace with the Sioux and Cheyennes if the latter would be peaceful.
Then a Sioux came forward after a prolonged silence, and made a dreary and unemotional speech, most of it a boast as to who his ancestors were and what they had done, but he was willing to let the Pawnees alone if the Great Father wanted it done.
Then a Pawnee replied in much the same strain, and to the effect that the Pawnees were not afraid of the Sioux, and never had been, but would live at peace with them or anybody else that the Great Father requested.
The first three or four speeches on each side looked as if they might get down to business and accomplish something at last, or agree to something. The speeches were not made by the warriors or leaders, but by the talkers. They were probably a cheap lot who represented the tribe only in a slight way and were put forward just to say nothing and commit their sides to nothing. The interpreters said that the speakers were a snide lot, and that the real fighters and leaders were not heard. The substance of the speeches was mostly brag, and under the circumstances seemed childish and inappropriate. The speakers did not seem to want to grasp the situation. Perhaps they did not dare to commit their sides to a policy for which they might be killed in a week. At any rate, the talking grew tiresome, and nothing to the point.
Then a Sioux speaker came in on turn after several had spoken; he said that he did not see any particular reason for changing present conditions -- that the Sioux nation was getting along all right, That if the Great Father could not stop his white children from fighting how could he expect to stop the red. This was a palpable hit -- a good one -- the Civil War was then being strenuously fought every day. The General sat on his mahogany bay listening to every word, and now he smiled a faint and sickly smile.
The Pawnee speakers seemed to favor peace and raise no impediments to an agreement, but the Sioux began to grow worse and worse, until they began to abuse the Pawnees roundly. One after another spoke, and still the Pawnees held their temper, and when they spoke generally consented to a trial of peaceful relations.
About sundown a Pawnee speaker closed his speech by saying that the Pawnees were listening to the advice of their Government agents and the army officers whom the Great Father had sent among them, and had not done anything lately of which the Sioux could complain.
Just as the sun was setting the last Sioux speaker took the center and gave a violent harangue with much gesticulation, working in much of the sign language which the Pawnees could understand but we could not. "Liar, liar," said the Sioux orator as he thrust forward from his chin his right hand closed with the two front fingers spread and extended, signifying forked tongue, -- "Liar; they all are forked tongues; while these few are up here talking peace to us, the moccasin-tracks of their young men can be seen all around our villages, trying to steal our horses and scalp our children. Besides all this, what are they doing up here now, and whom are they going after to fight?"
The speaker spoke with such rapidity and vehemence that he soon outran the interpreters and they quit, but the Pawnees knew from the signs that were made what was being said, and they began to murmur and shout back. But the Sioux speaker was wound up and set going and he had to run on until he ran down. He was talking to himself and the universe, and did not heed and could not wait for an interpreter.
Finally General Mitchell rode up and called a halt; the bugler blew a call; the sun had set; the convention was a failure. He ordered the Pawnees back; he ordered me to deploy my men down the center. Then he ordered the Sioux to cross the river, go north, keep out of the Platte valley, and not stop for three days. The Sioux Indians began howling and shouting; in a body they plunged into the river and soon were across; but they kept on yelling as they went north, and we heard them for a couple of miles until their yells died out in the distance. We hurried back to the Post, followed by the Pawnees and Company "D."
We waited at the Post but a few minutes, and all started off on the march toward the west, except Company "C"; it remained back to guard the Post. We took our two pieces of artillery and our wagons. We were now headed for Fort Laramie, a distance of about three hundred miles. The Pawnee Indians were taken along.
Our line of march was as follows:
First, an advance guard of ten cavalrymen of my company, in my charge. Next, General Mitchell, Major Wood, Lieutenant Rankin, and John Smith, the guide, on horseback. Next, the General's ambulance, and the two horses of the General and Lieutenant Rankin. Next, came about a dozen civilians, guides and interpreters on horseback. Next, six wagons, each drawn by six mules, being one for headquarters and the civilians, two for each company, and one for the Pawnees. Next, our Company "F," in command of Captain O'Brien, seventy men. Next, Company "D," in command of Captain Fouts, with sixty-five men. Next, the Pawnees. Including drivers all we numbered about 160 white men and eighty Indians. Major Woods was in charge of the escort, and no better man could have been found. Captain Fouts was an old man, brave but inefficient; he was shortly afterwards killed in battle with the Indians. We got into Jack Morrow's late, and found there about forty citizens, all under arms. We had two days' cooked rations with us, and when we got into camp we got some cedar wood from Morrow and cooked a little coffee. It was hot, and we posted our guards and pickets and lay down on the prairie, to sleep.
I had forgotten to say, that along with General Mitchell there had come up from Fort Kearney with him Major Armstrong, who was Chief of Cavalry and inspector of the District. He was making a careful inspection of all the posts and troops in the command, He was very strict and put in his time faithfully and very industriously. He examined our stables, barracks, horses, and supplies. He watched us march; he looked us over, and into everything. We never knew what conclusion be came to or what was the result of it all until when, nearly two months afterwards, the Captain got the following letter:
"HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF KANSAS,"Captain N. J. O'Brien,
OFFICE OF CHIEF OF CAVALRY,
FORT LEAVENWORTH, August 1, 1864.
Commanding Co. 'F,' Seventh Iowa Cavalry,
"CAPTAIN: The Cavalry Inspection report of Chief of Cavalry, District of Nebraska, shows eight enlisted men of your company as "present sick,' and it is properly explained in remarks of Chief of Cavalry.
"On close examination, I find that in every particular the report is very satisfactory, and shows a company that you should feel proud of, and which is an honor to the regiment of which you are a part. The District Chief of Cavalry in his remarks adds:
"COTTONWOOD SPRINGS, July 19, 1864. -- Company "F," Seventh Iowa Cavalry, inspected this day, and Company marched same day after inspection. Clothing, camp, and garrison equipage in good order.'
"Respectfully forwarded through Hd. Irs. Dist. of Nebraska.
Your Obt. Servant,
B. S. Henning,
Major and Chief of Cavalry, Department of Kansas."
This letter when received, long afterwards, was read at the head of the company for at least a week at evening roll-call, after which the Captain gave it to me to preserve.
It was so flattering that to preserve my reputation for truth and veracity I feel that I ought to append a photograph copy, which I do.
The chief of Cavalry's compliments to Co. "F," 7th Iowa Cavalry.
Returning now to our camp, at Jack Morrow's that night, I will add that Ben Gallagher, our post sutler, together with "John Smith," the guide, came with us. That evening, when our horses had all been tied to the picket-rope between our two company wagons, we all lay down on the prairie with our heads in our saddles to go to sleep. General Mitchell was in his ambulance and the companies were off one side. What took place that night I will leave for another chapter. It was ten miles from Cottonwood Spring to Jack Morrow's ranch. We had had a busy day of it. It was a beautiful, bright moonlight night.