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




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