Friday, October 25, 2019

The Jaybird-Woodpecker War 1888


A reader wrote to tell me that I should stay away from writing about politics and stick to talking about history. But history includes politics. Or at least, what took place as a result of politics. 

For example, as a result of politics, Thomas Jefferson stopped the importation of African slaves into the United States in 1808, Andrew Jackson conducted the Trail of Tears, Texans fought for their independence, California was allowed into the Union as a "free state," Kansas turned into a bloody mess, and we fought the Civil War. It was politics that prompted the Copperhead Democrats to call for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. It was politics that motivated Democrat John Wilkes Booth to do the dirty deed and assassinate President Lincoln.

As a result of political strive in America, we saw riots and innocents killed. It was because of the Democrat Party's desire to obtain political power that they created the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League, and other groups as their militant arm. They did so to terrorize and murder their political opponents, the Republicans, and intimidate freed slaves after the Civil War. And yes, Democrats lynched both blacks and Republicans during the Reconstruction Era.

Democrats fought to stop blacks and women from obtaining equal rights for more than a hundred years after the Civil War. They attacked black Union soldiers in a number of incidents after the Civil War. Later they created Jim Crow laws. They created Segregation. They intimidated and attacked blacks in a terrorist campaign to stop them from voting. Since 1867, Democrat fought against the passage of every civil rights legislation for blacks. Yes, including conducting an 83 hour filibuster to stop the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Even in the 1980s, Democrats fought against women's rights by defeating the Equal Rights Amendment.

My writing about this is really not my attempt to bad mouth Democrats, it's all historically factual and I find it interesting. Fact is there are some really interesting stories because of politics in our history. Take for example, the Jaybird–Woodpecker War fought from 1888 to 1889.

The Jaybird–Woodpecker War

The Jaybird–Woodpecker War was a political war turned in a shooting war as a result of a political feud between two factions within the Democrat Party in a county in Texas. No kidding, it was as nasty as politics can get as murders were committed against Democrats of each faction in 1888 and 1889. They fought each other over political control of Fort Bend County, Texas.

One faction of Democrats were known as Jaybirds. The Jaybirds actually represented the majority of the white Democrat population of Fort Bend County. The other Democrat faction was known as Woodpeckers. The Woodpeckers are said to have been almost the entire black Democrat population of that county.

So now, you're probably wondering why were they called Jaybirds and Woodpeckers? Well, it's said that a local former slave by the name of Bob Chapel used to sing about jaybirds and woodpeckers. Thus, the names were given to identify the political factions. The Jaybirds were 90 percent of the wealthy white Democrats who opposed allowing blacks in local politics. That is, even though those blacks were by then also Democrats.

Republicans had gained control of the county during Reconstruction. Republicans gained political power in that county because they were voted into office by black Republicans. And when the political winds shifted to favor of Democrats after Reconstruction, black Republicans registered as Democrats. What's interesting is that Woodpeckers are said to have controlled the county government by winning elections for the Republicans for almost 20 years.

Why did Black Democrats vote for Republicans instead of voting for Democrats? It's because most of the Democrat candidates were former-slave owners.

Those black Democrats who voted Republican became known as Woodpeckers. And to repay their support, Woodpeckers were put into positions of authority as county officials. Yes, all because they helped to turn out the black vote for the Republican ticket. It was all politics in that the Woodpeckers did what benefited them. The knew that the white Democrats would never allow them to stay in their positions, even though they were Democrats. This set Democrat against Democrat.

The Jaybirds wanted to get rid of the Republicans who held office and control of that county's government. They accused the Woodpeckers, the black Democrats, of still being Republicans as many had been during Reconstruction. Soon, all of the animosity between the two Democrat factions boiled over and led to friends, neighbors, and even relatives becoming bitter enemies. Believe it or not, shootings involving members of both Democrat factions became common place. Remember, these were Democrats fighting Democrats.

The election of 1888 resulted in all sorts of problems as violence increased between rival Democrat candidates. In fact, as result of the infighting, on August 2, 1888, a Jaybird leader was killed. Then, during the following month, another Jaybird leader was seriously wounded.

In response to this, the Jaybirds held a huge meeting in Richmond, Texas, on September 6th, 1888, What came out of that meeting was a surprise to many there. The white Democrats ordered the black Democrat leaders to leave Fort Bend County. The Jaybirds told Woodpecker leaders to leave the county within ten hours, and take their white allies with them -- or die. Many did and left out of fear for their lives.

It is said that the feud crossed racial, social and politics lines. Assassination and violence had become commonplace. Fort Bend County Sheriff Tom Garvey was a leader of the Woodpeckers opposed the efforts of the Jaybirds to return to power through violence. He wasn't scared off and sadly died for standing up to those who would impose their will on others through violence and threats.

The Battle of Richmond

Fort Bend County was founded in 1837. It organized in 1838. It's named for a blockhouse at a bend of the Brazos River. The county seat is the city of Richmond. During the development of Fort Bend County, a large number of black slaves were brought in to work on plantations. The county saw very successful crops of cotton, sugar, corn and other products being produced there. 

In 1850, Walter Moses Burton was brought to Fort Bend County, Texas, as a slave from North Carolina. His owner was Thomas Burke Burton who actually taught Walter how to read and write by the age of 21. After emancipation, Thomas sold Walter several large plots of land. With that, Walter Moses Burton became wealthy and influential in Fort Bend County. 

During the Reconstruction Era, black Republicans were elected to county offices. In 1869, Walter Moses Burton became the first elected black County Sheriff in the United States. Later, he would became a state senator in Texas. Burton was among a few black Americans who held office and ran the government for about twenty years.

On November 6th, 1888, all of the Woodpecker candidates were elected or reelected to office. This fueled revolt and altercations between the two parties. During that election, the city of Richmond, which was the county seat, saw members of both Democrat factions arm themselves to the teeth. As a security measure, the Texas Rangers were brought in to be on hand to quell anything that might take place. 

Thought the election had a heavy turnout, it was said to have relatively few problems. The result was predictable since the Democrat Party there was split. Republicans held on to control of the county government and the black Democrats kept their positions. The Woodpeckers were left in control.

After the election, the two Democrat factions really went to war. Soon arguments turned to assaults, and then there were two more killings. A black Democrat, a Woodpecker, who was the county tax assessor killed white Democrat, a Jaybird, on June 21, 1889. Then a week later that Woodpecker was killed by another Jaybird.

Everything came to a head on August 16, 1889, at what became known as the "Battle of Richmond." That was when a number of people were killed and the Woodpeckers were ran out of the county.

What became known as the "Battle of Richmond" took place at the county courthouse, the National Hotel, and other parts of that city. This wasn't a 30 second gunfight like that which took place at Tombstone Arizona in 1881. Those folks in Texas shot it out for 25 to 30 minutes. Yes, that was a full on battle.

At one point, the Jaybirds faced the Woodpeckers in front of the courthouse. County Sheriff James Thomas "Tom" Garvey and a crowd of armed men warned the Texas Rangers to get out of the way since it was none of their business. With that a Texas Ranger Sergeant and four privates who were on horseback tried to get in the middle and block the two factions.

When the gun battle erupted, Sheriff Tom Garvey, his uncle, former Sheriff J. W. Blakey, Jaybird leader H. H. Frost, and an innocent bystander were all either killed or wounded. Texas Ranger private Frank Schmid, Jr., was severely wounded, and died from his wounds a few years later on June 17, 1893. Pictured above is Texas Ranger Frank L. Schmid in 1888.

Sheriff Tom Garvey was appointed to his position in October of 1886. He was elected County Sheriff on November 2, 1886. He was re-elected on November 6, 1888. He was 29 years old when he was gunned down. Sheriff James Thomas "Tom" Garvey sounds like he was a very good man. Texas Ranger Sergeant Ira Aten who was there that day trying to maintain order in Richmond was appointed the new County Sheriff by the Jaybirds on August 21, 1889.

It is said that many of Woodpeckers retreated into the county courthouse when the shooting started. From there is was a siege until the Woodpeckers turned the city and county over to the Jaybirds. And really, that was for good reason since Jaybirds from all over the county are said to have made a dash to Richmond when the white Democrat population heard about what was taking place there.

The Texas governor had been alerted and in response to the situation, Texas Governor Lawrence S. Ross sent the militia in and declared martial law. The Houston Light Guards militia is believed to have been on their way as the arrived first to establish martial law. The next day, August 17th, the Brenham Light Guards arrived to back them up.

Governor Ross arrived and stayed in Richmond for a number of days while acting as a mediator between the Jaybirds and the Woodpeckers. In the end, with the collaboration of the governor, the Jaybirds had a number of black Democrats and other Woodpecker county officials escorted out of the county. So after a lengthy gun battle broke out at the county courthouse in which four people were killed, including the County Sheriff, white Democrats overturned an honest election and successfully overthrew the local government.

A meeting was held at Richmond on October 3, 1889, to form a permanent organization to maintain white Democrat control of the county. The Jaybirds passed a resolution to appoint a committee to draft a constitution for an association of the white people of Fort Bend County to control county affairs. A second meeting on October 22, 1899, did in fact establish the Jaybird Democratic Organization of Fort Bend County.

In all, 440 white Democrats signed on as members of that organization. They then selected Jaybirds, white Democrats, to fill the positions at the county offices. After more than twenty years of fighting, white Democrats controlled the county government. They established a "white-only pre-primary," and disenfranchised blacks from competing for county offices.

Believe it or not, the Jaybird Democratic Organization of Fort Bend County stayed in political power in that county until 1953 when the Jaybird primary system of excluding blacks was declared unconstitutional. Imagine that.

Tom Correa


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

George A. Custer & The Battle of the Little Bighorn

In my last post, I talked about General George C. Crook. Among other things, you heard about what happened to his large column of troops at the Battle of the Rosebud. Though engaged by a large force of Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, the Indians did not force Crook's column to withdraw. The fact that his men were low on ammo forced General Crook to withdraw his men and head for Goose Creek where his supply wagons were stationed.

His withdraw to resupply his men, and the need to tend to his wounded, forced a change in the overall battle plan against the Indians in that campaign. The battle of the Rosebud changed things. Whereas he was supposed to have linked up with General Terry's and General Gibbon's forces to take on the Indians at the Little Bighorn, Crook would not be apart of that fight. 

On June 17th,1876, while General Crook moved northward to the Rosebud for his inevitable collision with the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, General Terry and General Gibbon had by then joined forces on the Yellowstone River at its confluence with the Powder River. That was where a supply base was established to offload needed supplies from the river steamer  S.S. Far West. In reality, on June 17th, neither Generals Terry or Gibbon knew that General Crook had been blocked by a large force of over 4,000 Indians about 80 miles or so south of their position.

That was the case, even though General Terry sent Maj. Marcus A. Reno with six companies out to reconnoiter the Powder, across the Tongue Rive. Reno was tasked with going into the valley of the Rosebud to reconnoiter the area. It was there on that late afternoon of June 17th, on the same day that General Crooks column had come under attack and withdrew, that Major Reno found a fresh trail leading west out of the valley and across the Wolf Mountains in the direction of the Little Bighorn.

Because Reno was unaware of what really took place earlier that day, he was subsequently unable to inform his superiors that General Crook had been in the Rosebud Valley. While many of us take communication with others for granted, folks today may be unaware of the communication problems that existed at the time. It was weeks later that General Terry would learn why General Crook had to change the plan and did not link up with him. It would be then that Terry would learn about what took place at the battle of the Rosebud. It would also be then that Crook learns of Custer's fate at the Little Bighorn.

It should be noted that the Battle of the Rosebud took place more than 30 miles south of where the Battle of the Little Bighorn would take place eight days later.

On June 21st, General Terry met General Gibbon with his staff to hold a council of war meeting aboard the steamer S.S. Far West to outline his plan of attack. The plan called for Lt.Col. Custer's 7th Cavalry to move south down the Rosebud River, cross the Wolf Mountains, and enter the Little Bighorn Valley from the south. General Gibbon's forces joined by General Terry's would ascend the Bighorn River and its tributary, the Little Bighorn, from the north. That would trap the Indians between the two forces. At least that was the plan.

On June 22nd, General Terry sent out Lt.Col. Custer and the 7th Cavalry. The success of Terry's battle plan, as with any military operation, depended upon everyone doing what they are supposed to do. In the case of Lt.Col. Custer, his failure to do just that resulted in his getting his entire command wiped out. How? He didn't wait until supporting elements were in place. Instead of waiting until everyone was in place, Custer moved at least a day early for the co-operative action envisioned in Terry's plan. Custer premature advance was not part of the plan.

George Armstrong Custer is remembered as one of the most famous and controversial figures in American history for a reason. He started out breaking rules while attending West Point. In fact, he received 726 demerits in his four years there. And that, well that's one of the highest ever received in the history of West Point. He actually graduated last in his class at West Point, the class of 1861.

After graduation, he spent the first part of the Civil War as a dispatch courier and staff officer. Then, just a few days before the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, he was promoted from captain to regular army "brevet" major. For you who have written to ask me about those who held a "brevet" rank, the "brevet" system was a former type of military commission conferred for outstanding service, or out of necessity and need to replace an officer, by which an officer was promoted to a higher rank without the corresponding pay. So the person getting the promotion would get the rank and responsibility, but not the pay that should go along with that position.

While at Gettysburg, his commanding officer was killed during an attack on Confederate Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. Custer took command and led a saber charge. No one said he wasn't fearless and bold. In that skirmish, his unit helped to defeat General Stuart's attempt to make a cavalry strike behind Union lines on the 3rd day of the battle. This was a huge win during the overall battle and was looked upon a contributing to the Union victory there.

Custer received a brevet promotion to Brigadier General on June 29, 1863. As a Brigadier General of Volunteers, and being from Michigan, he was given command of the Michigan "Wolverine" Cavalry. Some called him "the Boy General." Right after that, he actually go rid of his standard-issue cavalry jacket and trousers, and replaced them with a "loose-fitting velvet coat that had golden braids adorning its sleeves, and velvet pants he tucked into knee-length top boots. He had a silver star sewn onto each lapel of a light-blue, broad-collared Navy-issue shirt. To complete the refashioning, he looped a scarlet cravat about his neck and donned a black hat with a lower crown and wider brim than those of standard-issue hats." By then, he had grown his blonde hair to his shoulders. This was all for the image that Custer wanted to convey to the newspapers. 

Because Custer was seen as reckless and premature in his actions, his brigade's losses were the highest of any Union cavalry brigade at Gettysburg. Because of that fact, there is a large monument which was dedicated to his brigade on the East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg.

Custer is known to have participated in nearly every cavalry action in Virginia after Gettysburg. It's said that he was bold, and sometime was actually brilliant in his reading the situation correctly. His fault was his vanity. He was neither humble nor shy when it came to seeking publicity for himself and his action. In fact, he was known to search for newspaper correspondents to give them gloriously exaggerated stories of his victories. There is no doubt that he loved to see his name in the papers.

As for appearing on the cover of Harper's Weekly magazine, he did in fact appear on the cover of that magazine after he sought recognition for participating in the burning of the South. He was said to be very proud of that. As for the rest of the Civil War, well believe it or not, he was present at General Robert E. Lee's surrender.

He ended the war at the rank of brevet Major General. After the war, he is said to have toyed with the notion of running for political office as a candidate for Congress from his home state of Michigan. It was actually a surprise to many that he didn't since he was known to have had some very lofty ambitions. Some say which included wanting to be president. In the end, though he saw himself as a celeb of sorts, he reluctantly refused the offers to enter politics and stayed in the Army after the war.

He was appointed a Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th Cavalry when the Regular Army reorganized in 1866. With that, he found himself fighting in a number of campaigns in the Indian Wars. Of course there was the incident in 1867 that resulted his receiving a Court Martial in which he was convicted of desertion and mistreatment of soldiers.

In July of 1867, while stationed at Fort Wallace, he took it upon himself to take troops and leave. Some say it was to go for supplies. Some say he left to see a women. Either way it was against orders and some troops died while away.

On August 7, General in Chief of the U.S. Army Ulysses S. Grant ordered Custer to be tried by a General Court-Martial. It was held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, that September. In fact, by September 16th, Custer was charged with being "absence without leave" from his command and for  specifications that fell under "conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline." Two of the charge specifications claimed that he had marched his men "upon private business" and that he had used two ambulances and four mules to travel the last leg of the journey to his destination which was Fort Harker. All without proper authority from his superiors.

Two of his men had been killed by Indians who had attacked a detachment, Custer neglected to pursue the Indians or to recover and bury the bodies of those troops -- more concerned about his private business. Another specification had to do with Custer ordering the execution of three known deserters. All without conducting any trial. Another issue was Charles Johnson, who was a wounded deserter who died after Custer stopped a doctor from administering medical treatment. 

Custer pleaded not guilty to all charges. The prosecution called witness after witness, who supported the specifications of the charges. While some testimony actually helped Custer's defense team, the trial had a few surprises. One surprise was Custer's own brother, Lt. Thomas Custer, who himself was a two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor for bravery during the Civil War. He was a member of his brother's staff, and he testified that his brother George said, "I want you to get on your horse and go after those deserters and shoot them down." 

Of course George Custer's defense was that his superiors authorized killing deserters. Though he didn't take the stand, he submitted a long statement that defended and justified his action against the deserters by stating that, after these three men were shot, "Not a single desertion took place from that time so long as I remained with command."

On October 11, 1867, the Army found Custer guilty on five of the charges and specifications. He was immediately sentenced to be suspended from his rank and command for one year and to forfeit his pay for the same period. And no, though he tried, he could not get his sentence set aside. But as was the case with Custer, he and his wife lived well after the verdict. This was due to the fact that his wife's uncle was Major General Philip Sheridan who allowed Custer and his wife use of his suite of rooms at Fort Leavenworth. It's said they lived there in comfort.

To his surprise, on January 2th, 1868, Custer was served with a warrant from the state of Kansas which charged him with the murder of Charles Johnson who was the deserter who died. Then on January 18th, a judge found that the evidence did not support the charge. 

After that, Custer and his wife moved to a home in Michigan. Then in a September of 1868, ten months into his punishment, his wife's uncle General Philip Sheridan pulled some strings to shorten Custer's suspension and had him returned to duty. By September 30th, he was back in command of the 7th Cavalry.

In November of 1868, he massacred an entire Cheyenne village at the Battle of Washita River.  In the Battle of Washita River, which was not much of a battle, Custer attacked a band of peaceful Cheyenne Indians whose Chief Black Kettle was a friend to the United States. In fact, the commander of Fort Cobb had guaranteed them safety. There was even a white flag flying from one of the main lodges which was a sign that the tribe avoided conflict. 

On November 26th, Custer located a large village of Cheyenne encamped near the Washita River, just outside of present-day Cheyenne, Oklahoma. He didn't even bother to identify the village as friend or foe. He did not attempt to identify which group of Cheyenne was in the village, or to make even a cursory reconnaissance of the situation. 

During the night, Custer had the exits of the village sealed off and the village surrounded. And if that wasn't bad enough, believe it or not, he actually brought the regimental band to the site of the attack. Why the band? Well, as insane as it sounds, at dawn, Custer told the band to play "Garry Owen." The 7th Cavalry has adopted the Irish drinking song as their unit's song.

The band started playing "Garry Owen" which signaled for four columns of troops to draw sabers and charge the sleeping village. Surprised and outnumbered, all sorts of innocent Cheyenne were killed. Though a few warriors managed to make a run for the trees and return fire, within no time the United States Army under George Armstrong Custer had killed Chief Black Kettle and slaughtered over 100 Cheyenne. Yes, all to the tune of "Garry Owen," women, infant children, the elderly, and the disabled were massacred. The viciousness of what took place there persuaded many Cheyenne to move to the reservation. 

As shocking as it is to us today, newspapers at the time celebrated the massacre as "the first substantial American victory in the Indian Wars." The papers called Custer a hero. They used the so-called "Battle of the Washita" to promote Custer as someone necessary when dealing with the "Indian problem." 

Yes, his exploits against the Plain Indians were romanticized, glamorized, and exaggerated by the newspapers in the East. And Custer, well he became a legend in his own time. He really did. In fact, to capitalize on his celebrity status, he wrote a number of newspaper articles on the politics of dealing with what he called "savages." And in 1874, he published a book titled "My Life on the Plains."

Then in 1875, because of his celebrity status, Custer was used by the political opposition to President Grant. The Democrat-controlled House invited Custer to testify in Washington for the impeachment of Secretary of War William W. Belknap. Belknap became a political target because he removed troops from the Black Hills earlier that year. That was right after gold was discovered.

The Army had protected the area from white settlers as part of a treaty with the Lakota Sioux. The withdrawal of troops allowed American settlers to flood into the Black Hills during that gold rush. Some say President Grant, Secretary of War Belknap, and others in Grant's administration knew about secretly violating the treaty, but no one was able to prove that. 

As for the Battle of the Little Big Horn

On June 25th, 1876, Custer's 7th Cavalry crossed the Wolf Mountains and moved into the valley of the Little Bighorn. Custer was confident of his capability to handle whatever he ran up against. He was convinced in the invincibility of the 7th Cavalry. And he was convinced that the Indians would follow their usual practice of scattering if they saw such a force as that of the 7th Cavalry descending on them. I believe he thought this was going to be another Washita village that they would massacre.

Little did he know that he was descending upon one of the largest concentrations of Plains Indians ever assembled. It is believed that there was as many as 12,000 Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, with between 3,000 and 4,000 warriors in that village. All under such leaders as Chief Crazy Horse, Chief Sitting Bull, Chief Gall, Chief Crow King, Chief Lame Deer, Chief Hump, and Chief Two Moon. While the figure of how many were in that Indian encampment have been downplayed to reflect only 9,000 Indians in that village with 4,000 to 5,000 warriors, that's still a hundred times the number of men versus what Custer was taking with him into that fight.

Remember, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's battalion had about 225 men. Under his command was Capt. Thomas Custer's Company C, First Lt. Algernon Smith's Company E, Capt. George Yates' Company F, Capt. Myles Keogh's Company I, and First Lt. James Calhoun's Company L. Major Marcus A. Reno's battalion had 140 men. Under his command was Capt. Myles Moylan's Company A, First Lt. Donald McIntosh's Company G, and Capt. Thomas French's Company M. Capt. Frederick W. Benteen's battalion had 125 men. In his battalion was Capt. Thomas Weir's Company D, Capt. Benteen himself commanded Company H, and First Lt. Edward Settle Godfrey's Company K.

On the Sunday morning, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer learned the location of the Sioux village from his Crow, Arikara, and Osage scouts. Besides Charley Reynolds and Isaiah Dorman, who was once a slave, Custer had 33 Indian scouts attached to the 7th Cavalry. Custer's Crow scouts told him it was the largest native village that they had ever seen. As far as taking their reconnaissance into consideration, he didn't believe them when they reported finding a village of over a thousand lodges. He was convinced that they were either lying or wrong.

In fact, at 10 o'cloak that morning, Custer himself went to what became known as Distant Peak Crows Nest. It was from that position that he saw the village below. The size of the village did not deter him as he subsequently pushed on.

It was about noon when Custer’s men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. We know this because it was about noon at what became known as Reno's Creek that Custer divided his command into three fighting groups. He sent Captain Benteen with 140 soldiers and Major Reno with 125 soldiers in different directions. Benteen with three companies was sent to scout out to the left of the command. The remaining 227 soldiers with Custer would charge straight into the village. With five companies, Custer moved off to the right.

Major Reno was instructed to cross the river and charge the Indian camp. Reno's Valley Fight was what they later called his attack on the village. He attacked the village from the south at 2:30 in the afternoon. He was met with hordes of warriors in a counter attack. Quickly, Reno retreated to the woods and then retreated across the river to form a hilltop defense. Soon after, Reno and his men are  joined by Benteen and his men. Together they will be there defending their lives until the next afternoon when the Indians finally withdraw.

It should be noted that while the Indians had been chiefly absorbed on the Custer section of the field, the pack train and its escorting company had moved up and into a defensive perimeter with Reno and Benteen. At one point they did make an attempt to move in force in Custer's direction, but it failed. And frankly, they had no idea where Custer and his men were.

As for Custer, he is on Sharpshooter Ridge and observes the village. He orders Benteen to bring up supplies. After Custer's defeat, the Indians use that spot to pour fire onto Reno and Benteen's position. Reno defensive position was reoccupied and remained under attack until dark of the 25th and on through daylight hours of the 26th. The siege was finally lifted with the arrival of the Terry-Gibbon column on June 27th.

As for Lt'Col. Custer, after leaving Cedar Coulee, he descends to the Little Bighorn River. The area that he had to cross is known as Medicine Tail Coulee. The Indians who are still preoccupied with attacking Reno and Benteen, now realize Custer is advancing on their village.

In the village, word quickly spreads of the impending attack. Sitting Bull rallies the warriors and orders the women and children to safety. He does this while Crazy Horse readies a large force of warriors to meet the attackers head on. Custer doesn't know what he's walking into. This is not Washita. It is a case of karma.

Some say Custer wanted to capture the women, children, the elderly, and the disabled in the village to use them as hostages to convince the warriors to surrender. Frankly, since he demonstrated previously at the Battle of the Washita that he ordered the killing of non-combatants there, I don't believe he had a desire to take hostages and use them as pawns against the warriors. Also, there is something else, he expected a small group of warriors to be on hand there that day. The reason that he believed that was the case had to do with the reservation's Indian agent who reported only a few hundred actual warriors had left the reservation. Custer didn't know that most of those there that day were not reservation Indians.

Medicine Tail Coulee is where Custer's men first engaged the Indians. As he made his way to the village, Custer sends a dispatch rider to the rear to hurry the pack train and its one-company escort forward. Shortly after that, he dispatched trumpeter John Martin with a last message to Benteen informing him that a "Big village lay ahead" and to "Be quick, Bring packs." That dispatch rider would be the last person to see Custer and the others alive.

Medicine Tail Ford is where Custer's Company E and F make there way to the village. Indians quickly force them out and up to battle ridge. Troops are pushed up Greasy Grass Ridge and up Calhoun Hill. It was here that many of those troops are dismounted and afoot. The Indians take the opportunity to stampede off their horses.

The Indians overrun the defenders on Calhoun Hill and the troops of Company I under Capt. Keogh attempt to retreat up to Last Stand Hill. They are cut down and never make it. In what became known as the Deep Ravine below Last Stand Hill, 28 troopers attempt to flee for their lives but are cut down. On Last Stand Hill, Lt.Col. George Armstrong Custer and about 41 soldiers shoot their horses for breastwork and defend themselves to the end.

Three miles away at a place now designated as Weir Point, Capt. Thomas Weir and a handful of men take up a position at the point at about 5:30 in the afternoon in an attempt to locate Custer. They reported looking north and seeing the Indians overrun Custer's position in a cloud of dust. They are about 3 miles away report that the Indians are shooting toward the ground -- indicating that the soldiers may have already been killed.

When the group of Indians made their way toward Weir, he and his men retreat and return to join Major Reno and Capt. Benteen. Reno’s command had to retreat twice and suffered heavy casualties. Major Reno, Capt. Benteen, and their soldiers remained under siege on that ridge until General Terry arrived with reinforcements on Monday, June 26th.

We know that the Battle of the Little Bighorn lasted more than a couple of hours as some say it did. In fact, looking at from the moment that Major Reno's unit ran into hordes of Indians, not retreating, but advancing on him and his men, to the time when they were finally met with General Terry's reinforcements, it was a long drawn out battle. Certainly not as quick as some say it was.

As for the question of when did Custer and his men finally meet their end at Last Stand Hill, I believe it was probably about 4 o'clock that Sunday afternoon. Remember, Capt. Weir reported that he saw a dust cloud and warriors shooting down from horses by 5:30 that afternoon. Of course, since Custer and all of his men were killed, there were no survivors to explain exactly what happened.

At the site of what is called Last Stand Hill, headstones mark where Custer and about 41 soldiers who were with him met their end. The huge area where it all took place was littered with bodies of both Army soldiers and Indian warriors. Fact is, a lot of men on both sides died that day. There are gravestones stretching for miles there. No, not in just one location as one would think reading about the battle. In fact, there are grave makers were Cheyenne warriors as well as Army soldiers fell almost 5 miles south of Last Stand Hill.

The Custer disaster shocked and angered the nation. The American public wanted blood and revenge for Custer. Whether it was his fault or not, whether he jump the gun and simply went off half-cocked as he was known to do wasn't an issue with the public. They wanted an eye for an eye.

As a result, the Army poured troops into the area. In response to that, the Plains Indians scattered, and some like Sitting Bull's band actually retreated to Canada. But gradually, under increased pressure from the Army, the Indians surrendered and returned to the reservation. Later, on May 6th, 1877, Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief Crazy Horse and his band, seeing the futility of further resistance, would surrender to General George Crook at Red Cloud Agency near Camp Robinson, Nebraska. While most of the American soldiers who died on Last Stand Hill are buried in a mass grave. The officers are later re-interred in other graves around the nation. Custer was re-interred in West Point.

As a last note, some have this belief that all of the Native American tribes celebrated when they heard about Custer's defeat. That's simply not true. The Crow Indians whose land bordered the Lakota Sioux saw themselves as vulnerable and next after the Little Bighorn. Besides traditionally being at war with the Lakota Sioux, they were staunch allies of the United States. That in itself made the Crow a target for others. It is no wonder that it's said that the Crow women cried when they heard about Custer's last stand.

Tom Correa



Thursday, October 17, 2019

George C. Crook -- Indian Fighter


George C. Crook was born to an Ohio farming family on September 8, 1828. His parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Matthews Crook, asked their Congressman for a recommendation to the United States Military Academy at West Point. At the age of 18, George was nominated by Congressman Robert Schenck and was accepted.

He would graduate as a Second Lieutenant in 1852 at the age of 23. A few years later in 1856, he was promoted to First Lieutenant. Then in 1860, he was promoted to Captain. With the opening of the Civil War in 1861, he was promoted to full Colonel and placed in command of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was immediately assigned to western Virginia. About that same time, he married Mary Tapscott Dailey of Virginia.  

On September 7, 1862, less than a year after being promoted to Colonel, he was promoted to Brigadier General. He was a brigade commander during the Maryland Campaign which of course included the bloody Battle of Antietam. And yes indeed, it was a horribly bloody battle.

September 17, 1862, was the day that the Battle of Antietam was fought. It was in fact the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with over 23,000 casualties. That's how many soldiers were listed as killed, wounded, captured, or missing, as a result of that 12 hour fight.

Following the Maryland Campaign, George Crook was placed in command of the Kanawha Division in the Western Theater. As part of the Union Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans, General Crook took part in the the Battle of Chickamauga and the Battle for Chattanooga.

In the spring of 1864, General Crook led raids on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad and in the Valley Campaign. It was after the Valley Campaign that he promoted to Major General. As ironic as it may seem, on February 21st, 1865, while in Cumberland Maryland, General Crook along with General Benjamin F. Kelley were captured by a group of Confederate partisans under the command of Captain Jesse McNeill.  He was actually a POW (prisoner of war) until an exchange was arranged on March 20th. 

After that exchange, General Crook was placed in command of a cavalry division in the Army of the Potomac under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. That was the Appomattox Campaign where he took part in the fighting in the battles at Five Forks, Saylor's Creek, and at the final battle at Appomattox Court House.

After the Civil War, General Crook left the Ohio volunteer service and entered the regular Army at the rank of Colonel. He was then assigned to frontier duty in the Pacific Northwest in command of the 23rd U.S. Infantry Division. In 1867, he was then appointed as head of the Department of the Columbia. 

During the next few years, Col. Crook fought the Snake Indians in the Snake War from 1864 to 1868. It was a time with he received a great deal of recognition for settling conflicts in Oregon between settlers and various tribes. In Oregon, Idaho, and California, his army inflicted heavy casualties on the Paiute, while also defeating band of Pitt and Modoc. He did so by using new tactics which included more use of infantry and dismounted cavalry. But also, he realized the importance to trust reconnaissance reports from his scouts. In fact, Col. Crook is believed to have been one of the first commanders in the West to use Indian scouts as troops in battle as were as to provide reconnaissance as with the location and strength of enemy encampments. 

There is the story of Col. Crook's runaway horse that should be noted at this point. The event that was witnessed and widely reported on took place in eastern Oregon in the winter of 1867. After locating a Paiute encampment, Col. Crook had all escape routes covered. Then he ordered a charge on the village. His intention was to take in the attack on the village from a distance. That didn't go too well.

Fact is, his horse had other intentions. In fact, his horse spooked and went from a standing perfectly still to a full gallop. Soon enough, he and his horse were at the front of his attacking force headed toward the village. Remarkably, Col. Crook's horse carried him right through the village without being hit by bullet or arrow. It was only after his horse was on the other side of the encampment that Col. Crook gained control of his horse. 

Was it inspirational for his men to see, him in the front leading the charge? Who knows. In the heat of the moment, there's no telling what his men or his staff thought was taking place. And frankly, if I didn't know that it was a true story, I would think it was just a tall tale.  

President Ulysses S. Grant next placed Col. Crook in command of the Arizona Territory. Crook's appointment is said to have angered some senior regular Army officers, but there was no taking away from the success of his use of Indian scouts. In the case of the Apache Wars, he used Apache scouts to great success in helping him force the Yavapai and Tonto Apache onto reservations. It was his victories during the Yavapai War that earned Col. Crook a promotion to Brigadier General in the regular Army in 1873.

With his promotion came more responsibility as it does. This was demonstrated from 1875 to 1882, and also from 1886 to 1888, when General Crook was in command of the Army's Department of the Platte which had its headquarters at Fort Omaha in North Omaha, Nebraska.

Then came the Battle of the Rosebud. The story of the Battle of the Rosebud started on May 28th, 1876, when General Crook was placed in command of the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition force at Fort Fetterman. At the time, a large band of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians under the direction of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and a number of other chiefs refused to confine themselves to reservations. In response, the Army saw their refusal to stay on their reservations as an opportunity to win a decisive victory over "hostile" Indians. 

So with that, the Army put into action General Philip H. Sheridan's massive three-pronged plan of attack on the Indians in the Big Horn country. General Sheridan used the same three-pronged plan of attack at the Battle of Washita River on November 27, 1868. That was when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry attacked Black Kettle's Southern Cheyenne camp on the Washita River near what is present-day Cheyenne, Oklahoma. It was hailed in the newspapers as as the first substantial American victory in the Indian Wars. But in reality, it was an unforgivable massacre.

Prior to the Battle of Washita River, Lt. Col. Custer had surrounded the village the night before. Then at dawn, believe it or not, he ordered his regimental band to play "Garry Owen." That was the signal for the soldiers to charge into the sleeping village. Outnumbered and completely surprised, Custer's men killed all sorts of Cheyenne in the first 15 minutes. During the "battle" which was really a slaughter, a small number of the Cheyenne warriors escaped to a treeline and returned fire. Within a few hours, the village was completely destroyed. Custer had killed 103 Cheyenne, including the peaceful Black Kettle and many women and children.

I believe General Sheridan's massive three-pronged plan of attack on the Indians in the Big Horn country was meant to do the same thing. As a part of the plan, General Crook was in command of one of three columns that would converge on the Indians in the Bighorn country of southern Montana that June. General Crook's column marched north from Fort Fetterman in Wyoming Territory was to rendezvous with General Gibbon's column coming east from Fort Ellis in Montana Territory, and General Terry's force coming west from Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory. General Terry's force included the 7th Cavalry under the command of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

So on the day after taking direct command, May 29th, 1876, General Crook was tasked with leaving Fort Fetterman with about 1,000 men. It was a weighted column that consisted of 15 companies from the 2nd and 3rd Cavalry, 5 companies from the 4th and 9th Infantry, 250 mules, 106 supply wagons, and 100 armed civilians. Because of intelligence stating that the Indians were located, the plan was advanced and General Crook ordered a "quick march." That meant the men would carry a minimum of supplies and ammunition, and the column itself would setup a supply station along the way so that the wagons wouldn't slow them down. 

As I said, it was a very large force. And two weeks into their march, on June 14th, General Crooks massive troop column was also joined by over 260 Shoshone and Crow allies. The Shoshone and Crow were natural enemies of the Lakota Sioux.

By June 17th, General Crook's column marched northward along the south fork of Rosebud Creek. Although the column had not yet encountered Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, or Arapaho Indians, it's said the scouts informed the General that they had found signs of a major Sioux force that must still be nearby. The Crow and Shoshone scouts were reported to have been particularly

pensive. They suspected the Sioux force was under the command of Chief Crazy Horse. They knew Crazy Horse was too shrewd to give anyone the opportunity to attack him at a village. They knew Crazy Horse was a warrior who would go to meet his enemies.

In contrast to his Indian allies, General Crook was convinced that the Sioux were encamped in a large village somewhere along the Rosebud Creek just east of the Bighorn. As with most Army officers at the time, including that of Lt.Col. Custer, General Crook believed that Indians were more likely to retreat and flee than stand and fight. He was determined to find the village and attack it before the Sioux could escape into the wilderness.

As for Crook's column, the quick march of the last few weeks, especially the previous day's 35-mile march, had taken its toll on the troops. They were exhausted. Knowing the poor condition of his men, at around 8 a.m., he halted his column in what was described as bowl of a small valley along the Rosebud Creek. His men unsaddled and let their horses graze while they relaxed in the grass and enjoyed the cool morning air.

Some say the silence of the small valley was broken by the sound of intermittent gunfire coming from the bluffs to the north. Soon, the rate of gunfire increased. The column was actually out in the open and unprepared when several of General Crook's Indian scouts rode in at a full gallop shouting,  "Sioux! Sioux!" Some said later that they heard everyone start repeating the call, "Lakota! Lakota!"

A force of at least 1,500 mounted Sioux warriors caught General Crook’s soldiers by surprise. Fortunately for Crook, the Crow and Shoshone had taken up an advanced position about 500 to 600 yards ahead of the main body of soldiers. They were not caught as unprepared as his Crook's troops who were scrambling to arms.

The Sioux were fighting the Crow and Shoshone on the high ground just north of the column. Because the Crow and Shoshone were outnumbered, they slowly pulled back to column. Their slow retreat was actually giving Crook time to deploy his forces as a mass of Sioux warriors began to converge on the column.

It is said that Crazy Horse had kept an additional 2,500 warriors in reserve to finish the attack, but decided not to use them after Crook's soldiers joined in the fight. The almost four hour battle continued until after noon when the Sioux retreated from the field. 

The combined force of 4,000 Sioux warriors had outnumbered Crook’s unprepared troops by more than three to one. If it had not been for the wisdom and courage of Crow and Shoshone Indians, we may be talking today of a much bigger massacre than that of what happened to Custer eight days later. Of course, later some would ask why General Crook did not set out a perimeter defense when they stopped to rest. Fact is, he apparently didn't want to stop long and he kept his troops in their marching order. This was done to save time of reassembling when resuming travel. As for his scouts, the Crow and Shoshone scouts remained alert while all rested.

About 30 of General Crook's men were killed, and about 60 wounded, but that's not what forced him to withdraw and regroup. In the process of repealing a superior force, Crook's troops used up much of their limited ammunition. Because of that fact, I really believe that General Crook had no choice but to withdrew to his supply wagons positioned at Goose Creek near Sheridan, Wyoming. He would play no role in the Battle of the Little Bighorn eight days later.

As far as what happened at the Rosebud, I see it as a failure of logistics and poor planning when it came to supplying those troops with the needed ammunition to accomplish their extended deployment. What I mean by that is simply this, they should have had the ability to engage the enemy for a longer duration than what they did. Because they didn't, they failed to accomplish their mission of supporting the fight that was to take place days later. Remember, General Crook's troops were low on ammunition after engaging a force of equal strength. Why were they low on ammunition? Because they left their fort at a "quick march." Troops on a quick march traveled light and were only issued 100 rounds each. When faced with an onslaught of over 1,500 warriors, those troops poured out the ammo to stay alive.

Also, though the Indians left the battle first, that didn't mean that it was a victory for the U.S. Army. In fact, I see that as a victory for Indians since they were able to get the troops to use up a large amount of their allotted ammo before having to return to their supply wagons in the rear.  I really believe that Crook's unit was fortunate in the fact that the Indians didn't know that those they were fighting only had so much ammo and no more. I believe if the Indians knew that fact, they would have kept up the fight until the troops were defenseless.

As for knowing the terrain and one's enemy's location, the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho had learned of General Crook's approaching column along Rosebud Creek very early that morning. They sent over 1,500 warriors in to engage him. General Crook's withdrawal to his supply station to the south has been debated over the years. The question being, in view of developments on the Little Bighorn River about fifty miles to the northwest, would his continued advance have influenced what happened to Custer? Could General Crook have prevented the killing of the five companies of the 7th Cavalry Regiment led by George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn if they got there in time?

As for getting there in time to support Custer when he was to attack? Let's keep in mind that Lt.Col. Custer took it on himself to attack when he did. Custer did not wait for all supporting elements to be in position as the plan of attack called for. Custer actually attacked that village a day ahead of when he was supposed to.

After the disaster at the Little Bighorn, the U.S. Congress authorized funds to reinforce the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition. Determined to demonstrate the willingness and capability of the U.S. Army to pursue and punish the Sioux, General Crook was given command of a large force and took to the field. He linked up with General Alfred Terry, military commander of the Dakota Territory, then he embarked on what came to be known as the grueling "Horsemeat March."

Why was it called the "Horsemeat March"? It's because his troops were so poorly provisioned that his soldiers were reduced to eating their horses and mules. Their hunger is what led to the Battle of Slim Buttes.

The Battle of Slim Buttes on September 9, 1876, was the first victory for the U.S. Army after the Battle of the Little Bighorn took place in June. General Phillip H. Sheridan, in command of the Department of Missouri, ordered General George Crook and General Alfred Terry to pursue the Indian warriors and their followers. 

With supplies running low on his "Horsemeat March," General Crook headed to Deadwood for supplies. He hoped to restock his provisions. While en route to Deadwood, Crook’s forward element marched directly into a Sioux camp at Slim Buttes. Captain Anson Mills and his forward detachment riding ahead of the column discovered a village of thirty-seven lodges. On September 9th, the soldiers surrounded the village and attacked. It is said that they killed men, women and children. Then the troops looted the village of food, ammunition, and guns. They took what they needed and burned the village before leaving. As I've said many times, there were a number of atrocities committed on both sides during the Indian Wars. 

Those who escaped in the confusion were able to get the word of what took place to other nearby villages. Nearby were the camps of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Spotted Eagle. Crazy Horse led a counter-attack against Crook the next day, but was repulsed by Crook's massive column. Fact is, when the Indian warriors attempted to attack Captain Mills and his men, they were met with General Crook and the rest of his column. After that, through superior numbers and firepower, gradually the Army put enough pressure on the Indians to where they saw the futility of further resistance. The Indians surrendered and returned to the reservation.

That same year, in 1876, the U.S. Army attempted to relocate the Chiricahua Apache from their home to the San Carlos Reservation in east-central Arizona. The San Carlos Reservation is still a dreadful place that's been described as "Hell's Forty Acres."

Once there, they were treated badly there. They were promised food that never arrived. They became sick and saw no hope for the future. So, with the leadership of Geronimo, hundreds of Apache left the reservation and fled to Mexico. Once there, they again waged war against the Whites and Mexicans. It is not a myth that Geronimo and his followers raided settlements and killed both those pursuing his band. It's also not a myth that his band killed innocent settlers. In many a case, Geronimo was known to burn settlers alive before taking their foods supplies, arms, and ammunition.

General William T. Sherman said, "The greatest Indian fighter of them all was General Crook."

In 1882, after the problems in the north were settled, General Crook was again sent to Arizona. This time, as before, to campaign against the Apache. In command of the Department of Arizona, he forced some members of the Apache to surrender. But Geronimo was not among them as he continued to evade capture. That didn't mean that Geronimo didn't see Crook as tenacious. In fact, as a sign of respect, the Apache actually nicknamed General Crook "Nantan Lupan" which means "Chief Wolf".

In March, 1886, Crook received word that Geronimo would meet him in Cañon de los Embudos, in the Sierra Madre Mountains about 86 miles from Fort Bowie, Arizona. Using Chiricahua Apache scouts, Crook took his unit into Mexico and found the out numbered Geronimo who surrendered on March 27, 1886, at Cañon de Los Embudos in Sonora, Mexico.

It is interesting that traveling with General Crook was the photographer C.S. Fly who was able to photograph the surrender. If C.S. Fly sounds familiar, it was in the ally outside of his photo studio that the shootout near the OK Corral took place in Tombstone Arizona. During three days of negotiations between General Crook and Geronimo, Fly took more than a dozen exposures.

One of the photographs of Geronimo with two of his sons standing alongside of him was actually taken at Geronimo's request. It is believed that Fly's pictures are the only photographs of Geronimo's surrender. It is said that Fly's pictures of Geronimo and the other Apaches that were taken from March 25 to 26, 1886, are the only known photographs ever taken of American Indians at war with the United States.

After the surrender, Crook's men escorted the Apache to Fort Bowie. But for reasons truly unknown to all, even though many people speculate that Geronimo was told one thing or another to make him flee, Geronimo escaped and headed back into the Sierra Madra Mountains. 

As a result of Geronimo's escape, General Crook lost his command. Brigadier General Nelson Miles was sent in to replace him and take over command of the Department of Arizona on April 2nd, 1886. It was General Miles who brought an end to the Apache Wars with the capture of Geronimo and his small band of Chiricahua Apache. 

When General Miles was getting Geronimo and his followers ready to be transported to a military prison in Florida, the General decided to include the Chiricahua Apache scouts as prisoners-of-war. Yes, even thought they had served the U.S. Army loyally, those scouts were included when they were all sent to Florida as prisoners-of-war. They, along with most of Geronimo's band, were forced to spend more than 20 years in captivity at the military prison in Florida before finally being released.

It's said that when General Crook learned about the arrest of those scouts, he became furious over the fact that the scouts who had faithfully served the Army were imprisoned along with the hostile warriors. He sent numerous telegrams to Washington protesting what General Miles did, but it was of no avail. And while his protests over those scouts went unheard in Washington, I do find it interesting that for the rest of his life, he made a conscious decision to speak out about that and against what he saw as the unjust treatment of his former Indian adversaries.

This is what may have prompted the famous Oglala Sioux war Chief Red Cloud to say of Crook, "He, at least, never lied to us. His words gave us hope."

He rose to the rank of Major General, but died suddenly in Chicago in 1890 while serving as commander of the Military Division of the Missouri. General Crook was originally buried in Oakland, Maryland. But the Army then petitioned to have him moved. On November 11th, 1898, General Crook's remains were re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

As a last note about the General, you may find his start as an Indian fighter somewhat interesting. Since not all of the Indian Wars had to do with Plains Indians, and there were also Indian Wars taking place in California and Oregon, it should be noted that that's where he learned about the tribes. And when I say learned about them, I'm not talking about simply looking at them as a barbaric enemy.

What people may not know about George Crook is that after graduation from West Point in 1852, his first assignment as a Second Lieutenant was with the 4th U.S. Infantry which was stationed in what was known as the "Far West" of California. It was during his time with the 4th Infantry that he took part in campaigns in northern California and southern Oregon while fighting various Indian tribes.

During that time, he learned the languages of various tribes, their different customs and traditions, and also studied their various war-fighting tactics and strategies. After a few years there, in 1856, he was promoted to First Lieutenant. It was early in 1857 that 1st Lt. Crook was in command of the Second Pitt River Expedition. The First Pitt River Expedition was in 1850. The expedition was named after the Pitt River Indians, as that tribe was known as at the time.

The Pitt Expedition was part of the Indian Wars that took place in California and Oregon during the California Gold Rush. The state of California called up the California Militia for "Expeditions Against the Indians" from 1850 to 1859 because of ongoing "problems" with the influx of settlers and the tribes living in the northern counties of California. Believe it or not, conflicts between local Indians tribes and the newcomers resulted in the newcomers petitioning the state to have the tribes removed from the region. Image that. 

The state of California petitioned the federal government to do it, but there simply wasn't enough federal troops in northern California to do that. Besides, the shortage of U.S. Army troops availability also had to do with the fact that the Army was already in the early stages of fighting California Indians in what became known as the Bald Hills War. In that war, the California Militia, California Volunteers, and the U. S. Army fought against the Chilula, Lassik, Hupa, Mattole, Nongatl, Sinkyone, Tsnungwe, Wailaki, Whilkut and Wiyot Indians. None of that turned out well for those tribes.

As for the fighting, in one of the many battles that Crook is said to have been a part of, he was severely wounded. It is said that an Indian arrow almost ended his life nevertheless just his Army career. It is fortunate for the United States Army that George C. Crook lived.

Tom Correa




Friday, October 4, 2019

The Kidder Massacre 1867


Second Lt. Lyman Kidder was born in Braintree, Vermont, on August 31, 1842. His father was Jefferson P. Kidder who was a lawyer, judge, a Congressman, and later served as a Democrat Lieutenant Governor of Vermont.

In 1857, Jefferson Kidder moved his family to St. Paul, Minnesota. It was there that he joined the fairly recently formed Republican Party. The Republican Party formed in Wisconsin in 1854. Jefferson was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1862 and 1863. Then in 1865, after Abraham Lincoln appointed him an associate justice to the territorial Supreme Court, he moved his family to Vermillion in the Dakota Territory.

His son Lyman Kidder fought for the Union Army during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865. On May 18th, 1867, almost two years to the day after the end of the Civil War, Lyman Kidder was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. Right after that, 2nd Lt. Kidder was assigned to the U.S. 2nd Cavalry at Fort Sedgwick, Kansas.

Fact is, 1867 was a tough year on the frontier. The Indian Wars were in full, and Lt. Kidder's unit was taking part in the campaign known as "Hancock's War." Named as such after U.S. Army General Winfield S. Hancock who was in command during that period. What became known as "Hancock’s War," was an unprecedented season of violence on the Kansas plains. 

Some say General Hancock had an eye on politics even then. Some say he sought a victory in the Indian Wars as a way to catapult himself into the White House. He was already considered a hero of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the newspapers liked him. His idea to intimidate the Cheyenne into submission didn't pay off, and instead he created even more hostilities when he had a village torched. 

Hancock's War was no mercy warfare, and battles soon raged across Kansas from Fort Dodge on June 12, to Fort Wallace from June 21 to 22, to Baca's Wagon Train on June 22, to Pond Creek Station and another at Black Butte Creek on June 26. Then there was the Kidder Fight, which we also know as the Kidder Massacre. 

On June 29th, 1867, while at Fort Sedgwick, Lt. Kidder was ordered to take dispatches from General William Sherman to Lt. Col. George A. Custer. At the time, Custer's command was patrolling to the south based out of a camp on the Republican River. It was about 50 miles from Fort Sedgwick. It was well known that making that distance was filled with danger. 

Lt. Kidder was in command of a detachment of ten seasoned enlisted men and an experienced Sioux Indian scout. While some say his men were part of the 7th Cavalry, all were in fact members of the U.S. 2nd Cavalry.  

As for finding Lt. Col. Custer, he never found him. In fact, it was later determined that Lt. Kidder's party did in fact arrive at Lt. Col. Custer's encampment on the Republican River. But after arriving, Lt. Kidder learned that Lt. Col. Custer moved his force to the south. Lt. Kidder is believed to have thought that Custer took his unit south to Fort Wallace. What Lt. Kidder did not know was that Custer took his men south and then turned them to the northwest

So while en route to Fort Wallace, Lt. Kidder and his troops were spotted by Lakota Sioux braves hunting buffalo. They returned to their camps on the Beaver Creek, Colorado, and alerted everyone that soldiers with pack mules were headed their way. The camps consisted of both Sioux and their allies the Northern Cheyenne. Chiefs Pawnee Killer and Bear Raising Mischief were in the Sioux camps. Chiefs Tangle Hair, Howling Wolf, and Tobacco were in the nearby Cheyenne camp. With the Cheyenne were said to be Dog Soldiers. Among them were Two Crows and Good Bear who later gave the only eyewitness reports of what took place. 

On June 29, when Lt. Kidder's men spotted the approaching Dog Soldiers, they raced off at a gallop in search of a defensible position and soon dismounted and sought shelter in a depression. The Dog Soldiers circled the soldiers, shooting at them while the Sioux dismounted and approached the soldiers on foot.

According to Northern Cheyenne reports, Lt. Kidder's Sioux scout Red Bead supposedly called out in an effort to be spared but he was ignored by Sioux warriors who considered him a traitor. As a matter of fairness, Red Bead was said to have seen a great deal of action during the Indian Wars and never showed an once of cowardice. So frankly, that claim is hard to accept. 

All of Lt. Kidder's men are said to have fought a running battle south, until they were forced to make a last stand in a small ravine. In the short battle, two of the circling Northern Cheyenne warriors had their ponies shot from under them by gunfire coming from the soldiers. Two Sioux were killed in the fight. One of them was Chief Yellow Horse. All members of Lt. Kidder's detachment were killed. 

In the aftermath, the Indians stripped the dead, scalped them, and dismembered them. Actually, the Sioux scalped and ritually mutilated the soldiers as well as the Sioux scout Red Bead. The idea was that their bodies being mutilated in this life would stop them from being able to fight in the afterlife. Or as they called it, the after-world. 

On July 12th, one of Custer's scouts, Will Comstock, found a dead horse. The horse had US Army markings. Soon after that, Custer's patrol found the mutilated bodies of Lt. Kidder's party. Kidder's command had been attacked and wiped out by a large group of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians. The bodies of Kidder and his men, including his Sioux scout, were scalped, dismembered, and decomposing in the July sun when found. It's said the scene was a grisly sight.  

How bad was the mutilations? Well, all of the soldiers and the scout had their skulls smashed, the sinews of their arms and legs were slashed, and their noses and genitals were cut off. Also, all of that took place while many were still alive. Then each body was shot with arrows. All in all, it was a torturous way to die.

As I said before, Lt. Kidder's Sioux scout Red Bead was scalped as well and dismembered as well. The difference in how Red Bead was treated is interesting in that unlike the scalps of the soldiers which were kept to hang from tepees, Red Bead's scalp was thrown into the dirt and found next to him. This was said to be a gesture of contempt for him since he was a scouted against his fellow Sioux.

Because all of those killed were stripped to nothing, all were hard to identify. In fact, Lt. Kidder's body was only identified because of a small scrap of flannel shirt which his mother had sent him. The incident became known as the Kidder Massacre. And frankly, while we all know that there were atrocities on both sides during the Indian Wars, it was scenes like that which the soldiers found that simply confirmed the thoughts of American settlers and soldiers who saw the Indians as "savages."


In his book, My Life on the Plains, Lt. Col. Custer described finding those killed in the Kidder Massacre like this, "Each body was pierced by from 20 to 50 arrows, and the arrows were found as the savage demons had left them, bristling in the bodies."

For me, I believe the sort of mutilations that took place only served to enrage the American troops. Because of such treatment of their wounded and dying comrades, soldiers and their commanders took a stance of give no quarter. As I said before, it was no mercy warfare.  

The battle took place near what is present day Goodland, Kansas. And while some sources say all were originally buried in a mass grave at the site, other sources say the bodies of the soldiers were taken to Fort Wallace and buried there. Either way, they were later dug up and then reburied at Fort Leavenworth's Cemetery after Fort Wallace was closed in the mid-1880s. Because his father had a lot of political clout, Lt. Kidder's body was taken back to Minnesota. Lt. Kidder is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Tom Correa