Chivington Fight - Julesburg Fight - List of Losses - Price - Incident of the Butte - January 15, 1865 - General Mitchell's Order - The Frogman and the Premonition - General Mitchell's Views - Captain O'Brien's Views - The Trader's Trail - The First Neb. V. V. Cavalry - The Nebraska Militia - The Butte - The Medicine River - Marched 33 Miles
THE battle of my company at Julesburg with the Indians came about this way:
After the Chivington battle, November 29, 1864, down on Sand Creek, in Colorado, the Indians immediately put the Platte River under surveillance. The true extent and result of the Chivington fight was not as first understood. It was supposed that Chivington had about ended the Indian war as far as the Cheyennes and Arapahoes were concerned. The number of Indians killed was much less than reported; the size of the victory was greatly overstated, and there were several bands of the Cheyenne and Arapahoes that Colonel Chivington did not reach or injure. But runners were sent out by the Indians, and the whole Indian country between the Platte and the Arkansas River was ablaze with war-paint and fight. Some Indians reconnoitered Julesburg and little squads of soldiers there went out and dashed after them, and chased them through the hills. But on the morning of January 7th there were about a thousand of these Cheyenne Indians and a lot of Arapahoes in the hills near Julesburg, and a few scouts were by them sent in, enough to call forth about the strength of the garrison. So, these Indians being seen, the garrison sounded "boots and saddles," and about sixty of the men were soon in line and started out after them, but in a somewhat prudent way. They had not got far from the post when the Indians came forward, first a hundred or so, and these the soldiers engaged, but the Indians were continually reinforced, and the soldiers were borne back towards the post, and a single-handed battle ensued. Those that were left back at the post got out the howitzer and joined in the fight, but the whole body of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes got into the engagement, numbering a thousand or twelve hundred, and our men could not repulse them, even with artillery.
The number of men killed that forenoon was fourteen, whose names were as follows:
Sergeant, Alanson Hanchett.|
Corporal, William H. Gray.
Corporal, Anthony Koons.
Corporal, Walter B. Talcott.
Hiram W. Brundage.
Henry H. Hall.
Edson D. Moore.
Amos C. McArthur.
It will be noticed that we lost a sergeant and three corporals; this crippled the company very much, because these four non-commissioned officers were of the very best. George Barnett, who was killed, had served over a year and a half in Co. "D," Thirteenth Illinois Infantry, and was a brave, daring fellow, and was on the list for promotion. In my narrative I have forgotten to say that when we went up to Fort Laramie in July, 1864, we left behind us Bluford Starkey, at Cottonwood Springs, who had been hurt by the kick of a horse; he soon recovered, but could not reach us, and was put on duty at Cottonwood Springs with another company of the regiment. We returned, as stated, to Julesburg about September 5, 1864, and a few days after that we got news that Starkey had been killed by Indians while in a fight with a body of them up among the cedars in Cottonwood Canyon, on September 8, 1864. In addition to this, a young man who had come into camp and wanted to be a soldier was John M. Pierce. I have briefly referred to him hereinbefore, in chapter 29. He was about 20 years of age, was from western Illinois; at least, he used to talk about the Mississippi River and about Illinois people. I swore him in verbally and issued him horse, arms and clothing. In short, he was a soldier and a member of our company, but we had no blank enlistment papers, and we had to wait until we could get some from Omaha. His muster-in would have dated November 25, 1864. The young man had been out in the Western country two or three years, as I would suppose, and he was full of fight. He seemed to understand Indians. He dashed in among the Indians as bravely as anyone on that unfortunate day of January 7th, and lost his life. We never had an inquiry afterwards from any friend or relative of his, and he has ever remained practically unidentified. He was an excellent young soldier, with great pride in doing his duty well. He was cheerful, companionable, and well liked, and was ever afterwards missed; but who he was and whether his name was "Pierce" was always a mystery. Hence it was that our company lost killed in battle first and last with Indians, sixteen men -- much more than any other company lost in any other of the regiments that I have named. The loss of these men and non-commissioned. officers was a great misfortune to the company, but it was war, and was the only way the country could be made habitable, or possible for settlement. Whether or not this battle should have been fought is a question that may arise in the reader's mind; but, Captain O'Brien was full of fight and was devoted to duty, and the fight had to be.
The number of Indians killed and vouched for was fifty-six. That may or may not be correct. At any rate, the Indians held most of the battle-field; the fighting was not far from the post; within the range of the artillery the Indians did not come, on that occasion. Some of our men were killed in the territory of their control, and were scalped. The Indians carried off their dead, and disappeared. As soon as they disappeared, reconnoitering parties were sent out on horseback from the post, and the next day the whole country around the post was scouted, and not an Indian was to be seen. It was reported that they had all gone down in the country southeast of Julesburg, heading for the Republican River, in southwestern Nebraska. On the evening of the 8th of January, Captain O'Brien had reported that the Indians had entirely left his part of the country, and that was the reason why I was ordered with my detachment back to Cottonwood Springs, because it was supposed that the body of the Indians going south of there might try to take the post at Cottonwood Springs. It was fortunate for me that they stayed off from the main traveled road while I was going.
Upon the 10th, Captain O'Brien was ordered to put the post of Julesburg in charge of the invalids and dismounted men; to garrison the post from the caravans that might come, and from the people who were already there, and proceed with all available force to join General Mitchell at Cottonwood Springs for an Indian campaign.
The Julesburg fight was considered by the Indians as an exceedingly bitter and unexpected resistance on the part of the white men. The Indians were repulsed and injured so that they did not try to take or capture the stage station and the stores and supplies a mile down the river. In fact, it was believed that the Indians were endeavoring to cross the river above our post, and go up Lodgepole, and off into the northern country; that their object was to capture and kill what they could and get through the lines north, and hence the resistance which they met from the soldiers turned them from their purpose, and although they were quite numerous, it started them back again into the great wilderness of country which lay south between the two rivers.
Of the events of the fight many strange stories were told. The Indians were all well armed, and in one sense better armed than our soldiers. They had firearms, and they also had bows, and quivers full of arrows. A bow-and-arrow is a much more dangerous and effective weapon than a revolver in the hands of an Indian. While a revolver could shoot six times quickly, as then made, it could not be loaded on horseback on a run with somebody pursuing, but the Indian could shoot six arrows that were as good as six shots from a revolver at close range, and then he could shoot twenty-four more in rapid succession. And so, when a soldier had shot out all his cartridges, he was a prey to an Indian with a bow-and-arrow who followed him. In addition to this, the Indians carried lances, which they used to good purpose. Our boys had sabers; an Indian could not hit a soldier with a lance if the soldier had a saber, nor could a soldier saber an Indian if the Indian had a lance.
All during this fight an Indian upon a hill nearest the post handled his red troops by signal, using at times a looking glass, and at other times a buffalo-robe. He swung his men around in very good style. Our soldiers were deployed during part of the fight, and the Indians had a drill not very much unlike it. During the fight James Cannon had a cartridge in his carbine, which would not explode; after snapping it once or twice, while the soldiers and Indians were cavorting around among each other, Cannon took his carbine by the muzzle, and, using it as a club, started in, and finally got to chasing an Indian. As the Indian was about to get away from him, Cannon threw his carbine at the Indian and struck him in the back with it. Cannon said the Indian "howled like a tomcat," but of course Cannon couldn't hear anything or make any observations at that time. He got out of the melëe without injury. Several of the boys were slightly wounded, in addition to those killed. Several of the horses were wounded, and some died of their injuries.
One of our boys was shot with a frying-pan handle. It struck him in the rear part of the hip. The frying-pans of that day as used on the plains were little, light steel utensils, with slender, heavy hoop-steel handles with a ring in the end. The Indian had a large arrow, and about nine inches of this frying-pan handle sharpened on both sides, and pointed, was fixed into it. This arrow went in several inches, and through the pelvic bone. Although the soldier got out of the fight alive, he could not pull the arrow out. He succeeded in getting back to the post. Then one of the soldiers got the company blacksmith's pinchers, and, laying the wounded man down on his face, he stood on top of him, got hold of the arrow-bead with the pinchers, and finally succeeded in working and wrenching it out. The poor fellow was in great pain, but subsequently recovered all right. We had no anesthetics in the army in those days.
All of the stage-drivers and civilians around Julesburg flocked into the fort, and made up their minds to hold it against all odds that should come. All the available men of my company, about fifty in number, turned up at Cottonwood Springs, ready to march with General Mitchell, on the evening of January 14, 1865, about a week after the battle.
On the 15th of January, 1865, the command was drawn up in line, and consisted of 640 cavalrymen. This was in addition to about 100 mule-wagons lightly loaded with rations, corn, tents, and supplies. There was also a herd of about fifty extra horses that were fastened together close at the bit, and driven by fours. There were also four twelve-pound mountain howitzers, and two light three-inch Parrott guns. Captain O'Brien was made chief of artillery under General Mitchell. Colonel Livingston was the next in rank to General Mitchell, and to him was confided the looking after, and taking charge of, the line of march. On the evening of the 15th of January we went up the river to within three miles of Jack Morrow's, and spent a cold, unpleasant January night on the flat plains, without any fires, but we had tents which furnished us a good deal of shelter.
At Jack Morrow's ranch General Mitchell drew up and handed to me a paper which read as follows:
HEADQUARTERS, EXPEDITIONARY FORCES IN THE FIELD,SPECIAL FIELD ORDER NO. 1.
January 15, 1865.
"PAR. 1. Lieutenant E. F. Ware, A.D.C., is assigned to duty as Acting Assistant Adjutant-General during the Expedition now in the field, and will be obeyed and respected accordingly.
"PAR. 2. Captain O'Brien, Co. 'F,' 7th Iowa Cavalry, is hereby assigned to the command of the artillery in the field. All detachments in charge of artillery ordered to the field will report to him immediately for orders, with such officers as have been detailed for the artillery service.
"PAR. 3. Colonel R. R. Livingston will have the immediate command of the troops in the field, and all orders issued from these headquarters, for record, will be transmitted through his headquarters to regiments and detachments.
"PAR. 4. Lieutenant Thompson, First Nebraska Vet. Vol. Cavalry, will act during the expedition as Acting Assistant Quartermaster and Acting Commissary of Subsistence, and will be obeyed and respected accordingly.
ROBERT B. MITCHELL, Brig.-General,
Comdg. District and Expedition."
That evening I told General Mitchell about my visitation and premonitions, and how the frog-man got down on me, and told me thrice that I would "never see Omaha." We had quite a talk in regard to it at headquarters. I had made a memorandum of the circumstance in my itinerary, as I wanted to put it down and have proof in black and white, so that, in case anything should happen to me, the premonition would stand in writing as of the proper date and show something definite as to what had occurred. But in the discussion that evening with General Mitchell, in which Captain O'Brien took part, the doctrine of premonition was pretty thoroughly riddled. Said Captain O'Brien, who had about him no savor of cowardice, or superstition: "These premonitions and prophecies are all bogus. Now," he said, "if any spirit, seen or unseen, any ghost or any angel, knows anything, why in thunder don't he tell it and tell it straight? Why does he give it to you in such a dark and veiled manner? If he knows you are going to be killed or die on such a day or hour, why doesn't he say so, tell it plainly, and leave the thing open to positive proof? No," said Captain O'Brien, "that isn't the way it is done. These things are always put into some sort of equivocal, double-dealing shape. Now, in your case, the message is, 'You won't see Omaha.' That doesn't mean that you are going to be killed, nor that your death is going to take place. You may never see Omaha, you may never see the North Pole, and may yet live a hundred years. Supposing, for instance, we should march on down to Fort Leavenworth, and didn't have to go to Omaha. Now that would be an every-day, unromantic fact, and entirely unimportant. And it would be just the same as if you were never going to see Davenport, Iowa. There are lots of places you are not going to see again. Now to pay attention to any such things as these is cowardice."
Then said General Mitchell: "These things are always double-barrel and meaningless in one sense, and very full of meaning in another. It looks as if somebody was guessing, and waiting for the guess to turn true. Take all the oracles of which classic language speaks: they were always put into such shape that nobody could understand them when given, and if they didn't turn out, no notice was taken of them; but afterwards something happened, and some deep and new hidden meaning was found in it. It's so with the prophecies of the Old Testament. If the prophecies of the Old Testament are read in a plain, sensible, straightforward way, then you will find they are not prophecies at all. The prophetic part of them was studied out long after the thing had happened; as a lawyer might say, 'It was a prophecy after the fact.' Now," said General Mitchell, "I don't suppose there is anybody that ever lived who hadn't had a lot of these premonitory experiences, but sensible men never pay any attention to them. If it should happen that you never do see Omaha, and should be mustered out and go home, you would always think there was something in the nature of prophecy to this nightmare of yours, -- that it was a revelation. Now, I think you ought to see Omaha anyhow, and I think I'll have you down there alive and well inside of thirty days."
I said: "I have no confidence in premonitions, and I'll go to Omaha anyhow, just as soon as we make this raid down on the Republican River. If I get killed in it, well, then it can be said there was something to the premonition."
This ended for the evening the discussion of that subject. But there were some of the officers who were superstitious, who had heard the conversation, and had heard my statement of the fact. They said, "Now, there may be something in it, and you better go mighty careful. What's the use to go to Omaha anyhow?" Said one, "My advice to you is to resign as aide-de-camp and go back to your company." Another said, "Be on your guard all the time, and it may be that the premonition is intended only to put you on your guard."
In the morning of January 16, 1865, we started early, and took the road up Morrow's Canyon. We took what was known as the "Trader's Trail." Our troops were composed of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, the First Nebraska Veteran Volunteer Cavalry, and Companies "B" and "C," First Nebraska Militia (mounted). The First Nebraska was an excellent regiment; it had been in the service for a long time. It had been down in Arkansas doing duty, had got pretty well cut up there, but had been filled with recruits. As I had been with the invading army in Arkansas, it was a great pleasure for me to talk with the officers of the First Nebraska. We had been over the same trail. I told one of them about bringing in the negroes at Batesville down on White River, as hereinbefore related, and that I got a lot of them from a large plantation owned by a man named Le Neve.
"Yes," said one of the officers of the regiment, "the Le Neves were ruined by the war, and Mrs. Le Neve and daughter came into Batesville to be under protection, and we had to issue them rations as 'needy persons.' They were on our ration-list all the time we were at Batesville, Arkansas." This officer said: "I well remember a young lady riding up to the post quartermaster, and saying, as she whipped her dress with her riding-whip, 'Please, Captain, can Mamma have a little coffee this morning? She is not feeling very well.' Coffee was high-priced and difficult to get, and was not included in the rations which were issued to refugees. My recollections of the Le Neve plantation were that it was one of the finest in that country. I heard one of the negroes say that they were raising that summer, four hundred acres of corn for the Rebel army. This was in addition to a large quantity of cotton. The Le Neve home was a very fine one, with a village of negro quarters and smokehouses situated near it."
The First Nebraska Cavalry had "veteran volunteered," as it was called. After a person had served in the field eighteen months, then he could "veteranize," as it was said, and enlist for three years longer and get a bounty of $300, so that soldiers and sometimes regiments "veteranized." The First Nebraska was a regiment in which the men had veteranized to such an extent that it was reorganized as a veteran regiment, and bore the name of veteran volunteer in the title of the regiment. The incursions of the Indians, and the vast damages which they had done in Nebraska, raised such an outcry that the Government had to send Nebraska troops home for the protection of Nebraska, the same as a portion of our regiment was stationed in Iowa. And so it happened that the "First Nebraska Veteran Volunteer Cavalry" was drawn from the field, and the Confederacy, and sent out to fight Indians in the Northwest. The Seventh Iowa and the First Nebraska got along together very well.
The Nebraska MILITIA were frontiersmen who furnished their own horses and arms. They were, as soldiers, first-class in every respect. The companies were small but efficient.
As stated, on January 16, 1865, we went up the Trader's Trail seven miles. There was a small canyon on the left, very full of cedar. We crossed a basin up at the head of the canyon about two and one-half miles in diameter, and turned to the right after crossing it, striking southwest. We passed at the base of a butte, which from one scraggly tree being in sight, was called "Lone Tree Butte." It was a sand butte, scooped out and ragged by the action of the wind. This butte is about ten miles from where we turned off after having crossed the basin referred to. Thence our course was southwest by south a few miles, then we turned around the base of another sandhill, and went southwest by west, and passed a tree with an eagle's nest on it, on our left about one mile. We marched then about southwest and struck the Medicine Creek ten miles from its source. The Indian name for this stream was Wau-kah Woc-ca-pella. Woc-ca-pella in the Sioux language meant "stream."
In the crossing of the Medicine we were obliged to get out the picks and shovels and make a crossing, because the stream was sunk down so far below the level of the prairie. We made the crossing at what appeared to us as the only available place for miles up and down. There were little cottonwoods, water, and a considerable grazing-spot, although the grass was dry and frosted. Nevertheless, we led our horses around, and let them eat what they would of it, and then fed them corn. The distance marched on that, our first day out, January 16, 1865, was thirty-three miles.