All Rights Reserved © Donald E. Fisk, 2018
TRAIL of BLOOD
The Bozeman Trail 150th Anniversaries: 1868-Part IV, Trail’s End
The continuing quagmire of the Bozeman Trail and its three original forts had evolved into a play in the theater of the absurd: They were there to protect civilian traffic, but there was none to protect; the forts were doing nothing but keeping the Bozeman Trail open so that they could be resupplied to sustain themselves! Lt. Bradley [Fort C.F. Smith] wrote to Dr. W.M. Matthews, Agent Indian Peace Commissioner at Fort Phil Kearny about the problems which the Mountain Crows [about 3,500] and River Crows [about 2,500] faced due to whites driving out the buffalo, and explaining that is why they want whites to leave. He noted the trickle of travelers: “It would seem to be a nice concession, and a small one, when the emigration is so ridiculously small as it has been this year past. I have seen all the emigrants who have crossed the Big Horn the last year and they number less than the soldiers who have been killed on this road in 1867.” 1
The Wagon Box and Hayfield fights of August, 1867, had crushed the warriors’ desire for large scale, pitched fights against the troops. As the spring of 1868 blossomed, widespread raids and harassment re-emerged in the Powder River country, making it clear that the tribes were not ready to cede their finest hunting grounds. Life was both violent and mundane.
On 15 March, 68, Lt. Col. Bradley, commander, Fort C.F. Smith, informed Lt. Col. H.G. Litchfield, [Assistant Adjutant General, Headquarters, Department of the Platte], that things were generally dull at the fort, and that although scurvy was present, it was under control. He noted that Crow Indians Crazy Head and White Horse warned him that some Lakotas told them that Brule, Hunkpapa and Two-Kettle warriors intended to take to the warpath with Red Cloud in the spring. Bradley did not take seriously the hearsay upon hearsay.2
There were communications about ordinary things; mail, routine reports, muster rolls and disciplinary matters. Untimely and sporadic pay was a big concern. There had been no pay at Ft. Phil Kearny and Ft. C. F. Smith for six months, and Col. Smith, Commander, Fort Phil Kearny and the Mountain District, requested that the Paymaster arrive quickly. “The road is open now, as it has been winter and there is no serious obstacle to impede travel.” 3
Maj. James Van Voast, 18th Infantry Adjutant, Fort Reno, echoed the request to Litchfield on March 20, 1868. He emphasized that “The weather is fine and the road is good.”, [which was likely an attempt to preempt an excuse for not sending one] and continued with: “Can not a paymaster be ordered here? I understand he will be at Fetterman the last of March.” In another letter on the same day, Van Voast acknowledged receipt of a telegram regarding abandoning the post. He replied that he sent messengers to notify Indians. He also included a curiously optimistic statement, given the desolation of Ft. Reno: “This post would be an excellent post for an Indian Agency. The Valley [sic] I am certain is capable of tillage, and it is well known that the Winters [sic] here are milder than in other portions of the Country. [sic]” 4 Romance was not entirely absent; Col. Smith authorized Post Chaplain David White to marry George Breckenridge and Mrs. Elizabeth Wheatley.5 Col. Smith was apparently not pleased with the Chaplain’s performance, as he wrote to the Adjutant Gen. of the Army that “…since Fort Phil. Kearny is about to be abandoned and as Chaplain White does not exert any moral influence with the troops, his services are no longer required.” 6 At the opposite end of the spectrum was the shooting death of Mrs. Doyle by her trooper husband.7
Given the stress of constant danger, isolation, poor food, primitive living conditions, grueling work and low pay, it is not surprising that there was some mental illness. Fort C.F. Smith’s post surgeon, Dr. Thacher, requested that a soldier be committed to a Washington D.C. government insane asylum. “The private had been carefully observed for two months, and there being no doubt of his condition, two attendants required so that he won’t hurt himself or others or wander away from the fort, fits of mental aberration since his enlistment in regiment.” 8
At Fort Reno, Surgeon Charles Mackin Jr., recommended to Lt. Todd, the post adjutant, that a trooper be immediately escorted to the Government insane asylum in Washington, D.C. because “… he has been insane for the past five months, during which time he has been carefully watched to detect whether the disease was feigned or not.” Initially treated in the post hospital, he was soon sent to the guardhouse, because he had escaped the hospital three times and was a danger to other patients. “Generally he is quick in his demeanor, but at times exhibits violent exacerbations of frenzy.” This recommendation was endorsed and forwarded by Maj Van Voast the next day to the Department of the Platte Headquarters at Omaha.9
In what would prove to be an absurdly optimistic prediction, Gen. Augur wrote that some of Red Cloud’s band had signed a treaty which Red Cloud would sign after he returned from raiding Shoshones. “Everything very favorable for lasting peace with Sioux nation.”10
The Indian Peace Commission began visiting the tribes in July, 1867, to present treaty terms. Two principal members, Lt. Gen. William T. Sherman and Sen. John B. Henderson, [Chairman of the Indian Appropriations Committee], did not travel with the commission, as they had been recalled to Washington, D.C. Gen. Christopher Columbus Augur, the General commanding the District of the Platte, replaced Sherman.
Other members were Gen. William S. Harney, [ret.], the Honorable Mr. Nathaniel G. Taylor, [Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and President of the Peace Commission], Gen. John B. Sanborn, Gen. Alfred Terry, later to lead the Dakota column in the Sioux War of 1876, Col. Samuel Tappan, who had investigated the Sand Creek massacre and had become a peace advocate, Mr. White, [commission secretary], newspaper reporters, and a Canadian interpreter.
Initial efforts failed. Agreeing to the tribes’ demands, the council moved to a site near present day Medicine Lodge, Kansas. No northern plains Indians signed the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty, so more work remained. The next peace effort occurred at Ft. Laramie, Nov. 12-13, 1867. But here, even Crow leaders voiced their displeasure with the whites, with many complaints identical to those of their Lakota and Cheyenne enemies:
Fathers, fathers, fathers, hear me. Call back your young men from the mountains of the Big Horn Sheep. They have run over our country, they have destroyed the growing wood, and the green grass, they have ruined our lands. Fathers, your young men have devastated our county and killed my animals, the elk, the deer, the antelope, my buffalo. They do not kill to eat; they let them rot where they fall…the Sioux offered me a hundred mules and horses to make war with them, and I did not go.
I learn that you have also sent messengers to the Sioux. You have made them presents of tobacco as to us; but the Sioux have told me that they would not come; for you have always deceived them. The Sioux told us: “Ah! The white fathers have called you and you are going to see them. They will treat you as they have treated us…The white fathers will seduce your ears by pleasant words and soft promises which they will never keep. Go and see them, and they will make sport of you.
In response to white plans to take from them lands already occupied by whites, Bear
Tooth continued: “Ah, my heart overflows, it is full of bitterness. We, their children, have obeyed [our elders advice to be friends with the whites] and what has happened?” Black Foot, another important Crow, reminded the audience that although the Crows had been promised annuities for 50 years in exchange for the right of whites to pass through on the way to California, the payments had stopped after two or three years. He continued:
Don’t speak to us of confining us in a corner of our territory; first give up the route of Powder River. Recall your young men who have camped along that river and all those who seek gold there. It is they who are the cause of all our wars and misfortunes…We are not slaves, we are not dogs…are there no men in your country, that you send us these children to put these vexations on us? The conference closed for that day.11
Commission president Taylor made more promises the next day, but no Crows signed the treaty, because just like Red Cloud, the Crows likewise demanded the white abandonment of the Powder River area, and also because the Sioux and not all Crow chiefs had attended. The commission and the Crows agreed to reconvene in “seven moons” [early June, 1868,] at Fort Phil Kearny.12
1868, The Year of the Treaties
“The Treaty of 1868” is actually a misnomer because there were several treaties; one each for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Arapaho and Shoshone. All were very similar; the biggest difference lay in the description of the territory to which each was assigned. Reliance upon interpreters was necessary, but a weakness, since no leader was fluent in the languages of the others. Thus interpretation of languages, with all their subtle nuances, was bound to cause misunderstandings. A prominent official commented that “I am sorry to say that I knew not any Interpreter in whom I have much confidence. My opinion of them is confirmed in the fact that no consultation is held with Indians, unless there are two or more persons present to deny or affirm the correctness of the Interpreter. Where it requires three men to watch one, the honesty and fidelity of either may be doubted.” 13
The treaties were arguably ambiguous even in English. The Lakota’s for example, were stunned that their treaty barred them from trading at Ft. Laramie, as it was south of the Platte. They had understood that they could not remain south of that river. Also, setting a condition that the tribes could hunt buffalo as long as there were enough to sustain the tribes was subjective, for what was enough and who would decide?
The treaties established geographical boundaries, provided justice for wrongs done on both sides, set terms of payment to tribes, provided Indian agents, required parents to send children to school through age 16, set clothing allotments, stipulated that agents conduct yearly censuses and directed that farming assistance be given to those so inclined. [What were the ones to do who were not “so inclined” to want to farm?] In return, no white men were to be harmed, no women or children were to be captured, the railroads were to be unmolested, and the right to hunt “…so long as the buffalo may range thereon in such numbers as to justify the chase” was guaranteed. In short, the treaties provided a vehicle to obliterate cultures the tribes had known for centuries.
Separate treaties were signed in 1868 with the Brules, [28-29 April 68, at Ft. Laramie, ratified Feb. 16, 1869] the Shoshone and Bannock, [July 3, Ratified Feb. 26, 1869], the Crow-[May 7, 68 at Ft. Laramie, ratified July 25, 1868], the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho-[May 10, at Ft. Laramie-ratified July 25 1868].14 A newspaper reported that “At the very time when the Government proposes to relinquish to the Indians that tract known as the Powder river and Yellowstone country, a most extensive expedition is being organized at Yankton, in this Territory, for the purpose to exploring, developing and permanently settling by whites the most desirable portion of the identical region.” 15
Perhaps a common perception is that despite the 1868 treaties, the American government ignored any restrictions about entering Indian land. In at least one instance, that was not the case: “The General in command of the Indian Territory of Dakota, has notified Capt. Davy that it is inexpedient for him to take his expedition to the Black Hills, owing to the fact that that portion of Dakota has been set apart as an Indian reservation during the ensuing summer.” 16
A frontier newspaper exclaimed that: “The present policy towards Indians is fatal to the whites, reports of Commissions to the contrary notwithstanding, and a change in this matter should be looked upon not as a favor toward settlers, but rather the duty of the government”. 17
An order establishing Fort D.A. Russell signaled the shifting of priority to protecting the railroads, the new route to the west.18 The wheels had been grinding for several months before the official notice to abandon the Bozeman Trail came from Gen. Sherman by letter to Gen. Augur:
I now enclose to you a letter of General Grant, concerning the abandonment of the Powder River Road. You may consider the thing as settled, and may proceed as soon as you please to draw of your troops from that line and let the Montana people know what it is done by superior authority, and because the road has not been of practical use to them notwithstanding its great cost to the Government. All the public stores should be brought away, or sold to the Indian Department… I have asked General Grant to try and negotiate with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the sale of these posts, but if no such sale can be effected I take it for granted that we will lose substantially the value of everything there. The breaking up of these posts and the withdrawal of the troops should be made with the utmost deliberation for at best I fear the Indians may attribute the withdrawal to the wrong motive.
You will note what General Grant says about the new line of posts west of the Big Horn Range. I await your opinion on this matter, but think that no line at all should be planned, and we should keep our troops near the railroad, till it reaches the longitude of Salt Lake, when the road now travelled from there to Montana will become the one in issue, and therefore the best entitled to military protection. I don’t believe in the necessity or policy of banishing our men to that wild mountain region till it is demonstrated to be of some practical use.
I do not think General Grant means to order the abandonment of Fort Fetterman, and you may construe his letter to mean the abandonment of Forts Reno, Phil Kearny and C.F. Smith only.19
Not all agreed it was a good move. A Cheyenne [Wyoming Territory] newspaper was particularly outspoken, voicing objections, concerns and even a bit of sarcasm on behalf of the white civilians in the territory: “The building of two new posts west of here is a necessity, and will commend itself to all good friends of the west, but the giving up of this vast country north of us to the savages is a move of another character, and is an attempt to hold civilization back, and give barbarism a new lease of life.” 20 Newspaper headlines screamed: “Fresh Indian Atrocities! Lo on the Warpath! Men Murdered!!! Ranches Burned!! Stock Stolen!! The Country Abandoned!! More Indian Commissions Wanted!!! 21
The article “What Shall Be Done?” foresaw the peace process becoming “…securely bound in red tape…” and derided the failures of previous meetings. The opinion about the tribes was very low: “…the intoxicating delight which he derives from beholding the country illuminated with burning ranches and roasting bodies of the unfortunate white men and women who may be so unfortunate as to fall into their bloody hands…” An irrepressible conflict between the whites and cruel foes has been commenced, and will never be terminated until the roving destroyers are whipped into subjection and, prostrate in the dust, humbly beg for life and mercy on any terms which shall be dictated by the invincible whites, who are destined to civilize the plains.” 22 Still another article mentioned the Crow tribe’s complaint that abandoning C.F. Smith gave their land to their enemies, and said that Crows are “…on the war path, and have commenced their depredations on the settlers of southeastern Montana.” 23
There was also disgust at the northern end of the trail. “The abandonment of the Bozeman route…is now a settled fact, and ere this, Fort C.F. Smith is doubtless in possession of the Sioux, one of the most disgraceful, criminal and cowardly concessions to the arbitrary demands of an avowedly hostile power, that ever called the crimson of shame to the cheeks of an American. The sale of stores at Fort Smith was advertised on June 1st, and the following order emanating from General Augur, gives the details governing a column of United States retreating in disgrace before a horde of barbarians, and hints mildly at the destruction of thousands of dollars worth of stores…” 24
To open 1868, 60 Sioux ran off 55 mules at Ft. C.F. Smith on Jan 1st. On January 7, Bradley reported that white outlaws from the north were adding to the problems.25 The following are just a few of many incidents noted: Capt. Andrew S. Burt reported that Capt. Templeton’s troops prevented the theft of citizen’s mules near Fort C.F. Smith, reminding his superiors that the Indians in the area are hostile, but that he will act only in self defense and do nothing that “…will not reflect the evident amicable policy of the Government [sic] toward these Indians.” 26 Capt. Burt later told of three attacks by Sioux since April 21st, but no troops were lost. The Crows brought news of “bitter and earnest hostility on the part of the Sioux toward the whites, such that they will continue their warfare.” 27
Similar to what his by-then deceased fellow officers Fetterman and Brown at Fort Phil Kearny had advocated, Capt. Burt wanted to lead a preemptive strike on their camp on the Little Horn, “…if the Dept. Commander does not contemplate eminent abandonment of the fort.” 28 A private letter from Ft. Fetterman to the newspaper revealed that most of mules sent from Ft. Fetterman to C.F. Smith had been stolen by Indians.29 A 60 man Paymaster escort was attacked “last Thursday, just beyond Ft. Fetterman, 2 soldiers were killed, and the Indians withdrew after fight. 30
Ft. Reno’s post return recorded that 20-30 hostiles attacked a mail party March 10th at the head of the dry fork of the Powder. One soldier was listed in the April, 1868, post return as killed in action, and on July, 19th, warriors ambushed a detail near the post. The attackers were dispersed by a howitzer, one trooper was killed and one wounded. There were no Indian casualties. 31 At Fort C.F. Smith, April 16, 28 and 29, there unsuccessful attempts to capture stock and cut off pickets, and on May 5, 50 “Indians charged by the fort.” 32
Phil Kearny post returns recorded no hostilities until early June.33 Skirmishes erupted near it on July 4, 5 and 18, 1868. Hostilities extended as far away as the jurisdiction of Ft. Laramie. At the “Ranche on the Cottonwood”, 67 Sans Arcs raided and stole stock along the Union Pacific Railroad Line. Two whites and seven Lakotas were killed.34 Col. Smith informed Omaha that from July 13-19, Indians had ambushed an advance guard of troops near his post, fired upon a corralled train near Ft. Reno and that 100-300 Indians had attacked troops at Ft. Reno. The warriors were probably led by Young Man Afraid of His Horses, and were “known to be in camp on Powder river, not far from Fort Reno.” 35
Headq’rs Dept. of the Platte,
Omaha, Nebraska, May 19, 1868
Special Orders No. 80
1. Under orders from the General-in-Chief, the military posts of C. F. Smith, Phil. Kearny and Reno on what is known as the Powder River Route, will be abandoned. The public property at Fort C. F. Smith will be sold at public auction, and that at Phil Kearney and Reno-commencing and finishing first with the former-will be transferred to such of the lower posts as the quartermaster shall direct.
2. Upon the sale of the property at Fort C.F. Smith, the troops there will be transferred
to Fort Phil. Kearny. When the property is removed from the latter post, the troops will go to Fort Reno and remain until stores are removed, when the whole command will proceed to a convenient camp on the railroad near Ft. D.A. Russell, and await further orders.
3. As soon as transportation arrives at Ft. Phil. Kearny, the commanding officer will send Maj. Smith and two companies of the 27th Infantry to relieve the 28th infantry at Fort Reno.
4. Upon being relieved at Fort Reno by the 27th infantry, Major Van Voast, 18th infantry, with the portion of his regiment at that post, will proceed direct to Ft. D.A. Russell and report for further orders.
5. Brevet Major E. B. Grimes, Assistant Quartermaster, will proceed to Forts Phil
Kearney [sic] and Reno, and in conjunction with Brevet Maj. Gen. John E. Smith, Col., 27th United States Infantry, will carefully inspect public property not worth transporting. Major Grimes is further charged under special instructions from the Chief Quartermaster, of the Department with a supervision of the packing, loading and transporting all stores at the aforesaid posts.
By order of Brevet Major Gen. Augur
Brevet Lieut. Colonel
Acting Assistant Adjutant General36
Special Order #63, Headquarters, Fort Phil Kearny, 9 June 1868, directed the movement from the individual posts. Capt. Wishard, Acting Assistant Quartermaster, was to remain to dispose of property at C.F. Smith.37
The announcement activated the lumbering, massive wheels of logistics. Movement of troops, supplies and equipment had to be planned carefully to maximize the efficiency of the exodus. To minimize what had to be taken, thereby easing the strain on the required number of wagons, people and animals, commanders were ordered to abandon items which were not worth transporting and to sell as much of the remaining property as possible, aside from military stores which they were required to transport.
In a series of letters, Col. Smith attempted to keep up with the movement of wagons, troops and goods north to forts to help with evacuation. He reported that wagon trains from Cheyenne were arriving at his post on June 17 and stores were being loaded. 83 wagons left for Fort Fred Steele on June 23, and 150 ox wagons were expected within a few days. Five trains headed south with 167 men, 145 wagons, horses, cattle, ammunition, breechloaders and muskets. Col. Smith also directed Capt. Burt to withdraw his C.F. Smith garrison to Fort Phil Kearny as soon as it was relieved of its commissary stores by train arriving from Ft. Ellis. There was continued concern about nothing being heard of these wagons.38
Van Voast advised his superiors that if the property couldn’t be sold to the Indian Department, 300,000 pounds of goods [not including corn] would require 35 ox teams.39 Luckily, the sale went well, especially for the major bidders, Nelson Story and his partner, who bought the lion’s share of the property.40
Col. Smith notified headquarters about hearing nothing from Ft. Ellis as of July 7th regarding supplying wagons to evacuate Ft. C.F. Smith, whose supplies would run out as of Aug 1, except for bacon and flour, which were not worth transporting! He advised that hostiles were keeping C.F. Smith and Phil. Kearny from getting wild game.41 He wrote again about no wagons arriving or departing Fort Phil. as of July 18.42
The posts were to be emptied from north to south. Fort C.F. Smith’s troops and equipment evacuated first, moving to Fort Phil Kearny, then on to Fort Reno. Two companies began the move on June 18, and by July 29, the post was officially abandoned. The local Crows reacted:
No sooner had they left their quarters and barracks and turned their faces southward, than the Crow Indians-who were camped in the immediate vicinity in great numbers-entered and held high carnival in parlor, kitchen and living room-apartments once considered sacred to the children of uncle Samuel. In fact the old fort had an inkling of its future the day before, when the Crows, having killed some of their hereditary enemies-the Sioux, while trying to steal their horses-and had asked permission to hold their scalp dance within the sacred precincts and the request having ben kindly granted, they, decked in paint and feathers, ranged themselves around the flagstaff and executed their barbaric rites and dances, to the immense gratification of the garrison. 43
Fort Phil Kearny’s retreat began on 12 June, when B and F companies left for Fort Reno to relieve 18th Infantry troops. That same day, Bvt. Maj. Grimes, arrived to begin the logistics effort. June 22nd saw two 27th Infantry companies arrive from Fort Smith. On June 27th, several wagons took public stores to Ft. Fred Steele, and three days later, the last wagons left. The post was officially abandoned on 31 July, its troops ordered to Fort D. A. Russell to await further orders.44
In June, 1868, 16 of Fort Reno’s officers were ordered to Fort D.A. Russell by Headquarters, Department of the Platte S.O. No. 80, 19 Mar 1868. The Fort Reno post returns recorded that “The garrison was withdrawn and post evacuated on the morning of August 18 and proceeded to Fort D.A. Russell.” The strength noted in the last post return [August, 1868] was six officers, 190 enlisted men present.45
“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they kept only one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.” -Red Cloud, Oglala Lakota.46
In 1870, Red Cloud spoke at the Cooper Institute in New York City. The New York Times published his speech the next day:
In 1868, men came out and brought papers. We could not read them and they did not tell us truly what was in them. We thought the treaty was to remove the forts and for us to cease from fighting. But they wanted to send us traders on the Missouri, but we wanted traders where we were. When I reached Washington, the Great Father explained to me that the interpreters had deceived me. All I want is what is right and just.47
The period between the time that old Fort Philip Kearny was abandoned and  and Custer’s disaster on the Little Big Horn River  is commonly referred to as the “blind spot” in the history of this frontier. Almost eight years passed before anyone again ventured to travel over the old Bozeman Trail. By this time, gold had been discovered in the Black Hills and a new gold rush was on. It was not until then that a group of miners in the gold fields of Montana organized a train sufficiently large to assure safe passage over the Bozeman Trail and then on to the newly discovered gold fields in the Black Hills.48
John Finerty, a Chicago reporter with the Crook expedition, remarked in 1876 about leaving the Powder river for the Crazy Woman fork, and that though there were buffalo wallows, “…but none of the noble bisons, now, alas, all but extinct,..” Later, they found buffalo. The group camped at the ruins of Fort Phil Kearny on June 5th, 1876 and marched over Fetterman Ridge the next day, soon to meet many of the warriors who had fought so long and hard to protect their Powder River hunting grounds.49
At a 1938 ceremony, longtime Buffalo, Wyoming, resident and pharmacist Jim Gatchell, who had known some of the veterans who had served at the fort, read from a paper he had written:
“…During the time the three forts along the Bozeman trail were in commission they had 37 engagements with the Indians, and 20 of these were by troops from this post. These are the engagements that managed to find their way into the reports of the army, but does not include the numerous sorties made by the garrisons; or the many skirmishes of the contractors, or the many fights of civilian outfits… but the tale of many of those who traveled the Bozeman trail in those stirring Indian days have [sic] never been recorded, because there were none left to recount the adventure…” 50
Figures about the lives lost and the amount of money that was spent on the Bozeman Trail vary. According to Capt. James L. Fisk, over 3,000 travelers were killed by Indians along the “Bowman (sic) cutoff,” and that “…the whole route is strewn with graves.” 51 A smaller estimate is 154 from August 1st through December 31st, 1866, including the 81 killed in the Fetterman fight.52 Another source claimed 35 deaths as of the end of July, 1866.53 General Sherman told congress that 1866 casualties were 25 soldiers and about 20 civilians, and he emphasized the great cost of keeping troops in the west.54 He also stated that:
As we had reason to apprehend, some of the Sioux, attributing our action to fear, followed up on our withdrawal by raids to the line of the Pacific road, and to the south of it into Colorado. Others of them doubtless reached the camps of the Arapaho on Beaver Creek, and the Cheyenne camps on Pawnee Fork, near Fort Larned and told them what occurred, and made them believe that by war or threats of war they too could compel us to abandon the Smoky Hill line, which passes through the very heart of the buffalo region, the best hunting grounds of America. 55
Sherman had shared the same sentiment in a March 7, 1868 letter to Gen. Augur. Lt. Palmer cynically viewed the Peace Commission as being intended to pacify the Indians by removing troops from forts Reno, Kearny and C.F. Smith.56
One author estimated that it cost $60,000 to kill one hostile.57 Lt. Wishart wrote: “The expense of this war is one million dollars per week and each Indian killed has cost two hundred thousand dollars and what have we gained? Is this country worth it?” 58
It was said of the forts’ closing that with only Ft. Ellis to protect a 200 mile frontier, farmers and miners feared staying, and that even Bozeman endured stock raids. Indians were seemingly free to plunder and take revenge on settlers. The forts had kept Indians scattered, but with the forts gone, they could roam at will. The article finished by asserting that it is the Government’s duty to change the situation.59
There were several of my company discharged at Omaha on the first of March, 1869. In this way, they [“the Army”, author’s note] avoided the necessity of giving a pension, as would have been compulsory if let out as they should have been…A lot of men who should have been discharged for disability were thus carried or gotten rid of by some other means and did not get the pension they were justly entitled to.60
To protect travel over a road which by its treaty terms was illegal, the Government established forts, and then dispatched soldiers to defend them, who often went reluctantly. Some of these enlisted to serve during the Civil War. That ended, they held the Government had no right to send them into the wilderness to fight Indians, which was not only a dangerous, but a thankless undertaking. The winning of a battle was not likely to earn for them recognition of heroism from the government, and the Eastern press invariably censured them. Theirs was a hard lot, as any can testify-officers or civilians, who knew them, and understood the difficulties with which they contended.61
Little publicity or public recognition has ever been given the Indian War Veteran and his accomplishments. They are indeed a FORGOTTEN PEOPLE and the only ones in American history so treated…They were so placed for the purpose of being shot at and abused. Their deeds were in a country little known and against an enemy that was not a national menace as in other wars. The natural result was that they were shelved when other veterans were getting pensions and monuments. They traveled through snow and cold without shelter, and were expected to do the impossible, such as traveling fifty to a hundred miles in a day on foot to the scene of some depredation by Indians. The popular idea was that they were no good anyway.
“All of the old timers in Cheyenne will remember my bunkie, John Donovan. He had three arrow wounds, one from a poisoned arrow that left a running sore. He was also a Civil War veteran. He tried to get a pension for many years….He finally received $16.00 per month.62
The Home Boys
The Northern Plains tribes fate was sealed when the Peace Commission concluded that:
“…peace with the Indians east of the Rocky Mountains could only be secured by their collection on reservations and maintenance by the government till able to provide for themselves.
The races cannot live together…” The prevalent attitude in Washington was:
It is useless any longer to attempt the occupation of these plains in common with these tribes…But personal labor and restriction to one place being at variance with the hereditary pride and habits of the Indian, the desired result can only be achieved by coercion, and it was for this reason that the peace commission, in view too of recent events, was compelled to the conclusion in their late report, that the management of Indian affairs should be again vested in the War Department, as the only branch of government able to use the required force promptly…
The plan of the peace commission is by General Sherman believed to be the only means of saving the Indian from total annihilation, and he urges upon Congress its immediate adoption.
Grant agreed with Sherman.63
Lives of the Famous After the Closure
Red Cloud-[Mahpiua-Luta], signed no treaty until the whites left. He never again fought them, and became an effective advocate for the Sioux until he died in 1909 at 87. Crazy Horse-[Tashunka Witko] fought the 7th Cavalry at the Yellowstone, Gen. Crook at the Rosebud, and the 7th again at the Little Big Horn, and Gen. Miles in 1877. He died from a bayonet wound while in captivity at Fort Robinson, in 1877, 37 years old. American Horse, Oglala, [Wasicun Thasunke] the likely slayer of Capt. Fetterman, advocated for peace and did not wage war against the whites after Red Cloud’s war. He died in 1908.64 Morning Star [Vóóhéhéve; Lakota nickname: Dull Knife [Tamílapéšni], died of natural causes in 1883. He signed the 1868 treaty and was at his agency during the Custer battle. Dull Knife was one of two leaders of the immortalized, long Cheyenne exodus from Oklahoma. Eventually he and his people returned to their homeland.65
Little Wolf-[ó’kôhómôxháahketa, [aka”Little Coyote”], arrived too late to fight at the Little Big Horn. He was the other great Northern Cheyenne leader and with Dull Knife, lead 300 of their people in an epic saga to try to return to their homeland. Like Dull Knife, he died of natural causes at the age of 84 in 1904, and is buried next to Dull Knife in the Lame Deer, Montana, cemetery.66
Maj. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke was relieved of command of the Dept. of the Platte, Jan 23, 1867, and died in 1873.67 Henry Carrington became a Professor of Military Science at Wabash College, IN. Buried in the bowels of a Boston newspaper, was the news of his death: “Gen Carrington Dead. Hyde Park Veteran Was Noted as Lawyer, Soldier and Writer of Military History.” 68 He died at his Hyde park, Massachusetts home, Oct 26, 1912. He spent his years after the Fetterman fight trying to clear his name.69 Francis Carrington’s My Army Life described the 1908 memorial ceremony attended by her husband, dignitaries and veterans. [Author’s comment: Carrington’s attempt to absolve himself of blame instead of simply paying homage to his troopers and the bravery of the warriors at this ceremony seems undignified.].
Margaret Carrington authored the classic account of frontier life in the Powder River country, Absaroka, Home of the Crows before dying in 1870. Frances Grummond returned to Franklin, TN, her hometown. She eventually won her widow’s pension which at first had been denied. She married the widowed Col. Carrington. Her book is a companion classic to Mrs. Carrington’s.
Lt. Bisbee enjoyed a distinguished career, also serving in the Spanish American war. Pres. Theodore Roosevelt promoted him to Brigadier General in 1901 and he retired in 190270 Capt. Powell retired in January, 1868. His wounds and battle experience dragged him into physician diagnosed insanity; “PTSD”, in today’s terms. He reportedly wore his military headgear in his sickbed and shouted commands as he had done at the Wagon Box fight. Capt. Powell died in 1903.71
Jim Bridger lived his last ten years on his Missouri farm, where he died in 1881. Mitch Boyer became an interpreter at Fort Phil. Kearny in April, 1868 and breathed his last as a 7th Cavalry scout at the Little Big Horn, June 25th 1876. John “Portugee” Phillips carried mail, ranched and ran a hotel, dying in 1883.72 John Bozeman died violently in 1867,73 while frontier entrepreneur Nelson Story became Montana’s first millionaire, dying in 1926, aged 88.74 Chaplain David White, despite alienating Col. Smith, 75 Lt Col Crook and even the Secretary of War, (who approved White’s transfer request, but demanded to know who appointed him in the first place, and asked if Alaska needed a Chaplain),76 miraculously managed to retire from the army in 1882.77
Post 1868 Incidents
Fort Phil Kearny’s bodies were exhumed and removed to Custer National Cemetery in 1888, and initially reburied on Last Stand Hill. J.F. Kirkpatrick rode from his family’s nearby ranch to watch. Elsa Byron Spear told of her interview with him:
When he arrived they were just opening Lt. Bingham’s grave. The box around the coffin was rotted, but the tin coffin was intact. And as the screws were rusted out, they lifted the top right off. There was a silk handkerchief across the face. The features were very distinct, his head had been scalped and a piece of blue lined white paper was pasted over the top of the skull. He was dressed in full evening dress with white shirt and black cravat. While they were all gasping at the site, it began to dissolve to dust right before their eyes.
When they opened the long trench where seventy-six bodies from the Fetterman Massacre were buried, the top tier was nothing but a pile of bones…the bottom tier was well preserved, enough so they could see how terribly the men had been mutilated. These bodies had many stone and metal arrow heads in them and all were scalped… An arrow head which had the red headed bugler’s hair stuck to it was won by a rancher in a poker game.”78
Interested citizens championed a preservation project for Fort Philip Kearny, the only one of the first three trail forts to receive such attention, and through the efforts of the Sheridan Chamber of Commerce Scenic Development Committee and the U.S. Forest Service, a Civilian Conservation Corps project began restoring part of the stockade and finished the Grummond cabin replica in 1938.79
The essential question regarding the Bozeman Trail is “Was it worth it?” From 1860 to 1866, just after the Civil War, America’s public debt had exploded from $65 million $2.76 billion.80 It was obvious that Federal Income Tax revenue alone was not nearly enough to climb out of the financial pit. Geographic expansion was needed to begin economic expansion. The nation looked west; seemingly boundless land, opportunities and natural resources. Manifest Destiny began anew, with people seeking fresh starts, and the United States yearning to be one land from coast to coast. A western newspaper opined about the lure:
…From many and reliable sources we learn that, owing to the high prices of living and scarcity of labor during the past year in the East, …numbers of families are preparing to emigrate from nearly every town and county in the eastern and middle States to this almost boundless and undeveloped country lying went of the Missouri…there are scores of families awaiting the opening of navigation on the Lakes for cheap transportation to move…to this Great West…There scarcely seems to be any encouragement for workingmen to remain in the East, and they all feel confident that by crossing the Missouri their success in life will be insured. Many of the young unmarried men seem to have been struck with a desire to try their fortunes in the gold fields, the fascinating tales of which have been so often told and repeated by returning miners, and letters from fortunate friends who have succeeded in making money rapidly in the digging. Everything, in fact, indicates that the emigration this year will be immense, and that large portions of these western territories will be rapidly filled with settlers. A great future seems to be in store for the West, and before many years the line of the Union Pacific Railway will show an unbroken chain of settlements from the Great Muddy to the Pacific Ocean. 81
The feverish allure of gold reported to be in the Montana Territory as early as 1862 began to seize the attention of the government and citizens alike. The two overland routes blazed to the gold fields by John Bozeman and Jim Bridger promised quicker access than previous routes. The Bozeman Trail was quicker, offered adequate water and grazing, although more dangerous than Bridger’s.
The government and private citizens spent millions of dollars to access the gold fields. Although no actual permanent road was built, paying contractors to cut and saw timber and help troopers erect forts was expensive. Supplying and manning the forts was also costly.
An Army General Command and Staff College student wrote: “Many of the columns were too busy just trying to survive to bother the Indian much; in fact, the Indian was probably well pleased with their visit because of all the equipment and animals left strewn along the route.” The twenty million spent in support alone produced fewer Indian casualties than the hundred or so caused by the defensive actions of the widely scattered garrison protecting the roads and settlement throughout the same area.” 82 Transportation technology provided the answer to this enterprise. Railroading had improved to the point where it was cheaper, quicker and safer to drive the railroads west farther south where there would be much less tribal interference. Of course, the value of the lives lost is very hard, if not impossible, to measure. Red Cloud allegedly said that at the Wagon Box fight, “…the Flower of his Nation” was lost.83
Today, only speculation remains about what would have happened had there been no Bozeman Trail. Emigrants/invaders/troopers/warriors would not have been killed, and money spent for the trail could have gone to more quickly build the rails. However, there was no way that people’s desire to get the gold was going to stop. The sooner they could get there, the better claim they could establish and the quicker they could accumulate riches. As long as whites were moving through that country, the government was obligated to protect them. Especially after the 1874 discovery of Black Hills gold, the government lacked sufficient manpower to stem the flood of whites.
The same was the case in 1866, when army manning was even worse. “The full demobilization of the Civil War Army left about 25,000 men to occupy some 250 posts and stations throughout the nation.” 84 The 12,000 troops envisioned were reduced to 2,000 by the rapid demobilization of a wartime army-just as well, for maintaining even this number in hostile country almost proved too much.” 85 Army strength as of 30 Sept., 1868 was 48,000 and was forecast to be 43,000 by Jan 1, 1869 simply by expiration of service.86
A major war with the Northern Plains tribes was inevitable. The Bozeman Trail simply ignited the conflict earlier. As General Sherman feared, the government’s abandonment of the forts was perceived as weakness by the tribes. It did seem to likely encourage resistance in other places, particularly the Smoky Hill river area. `
Reservations to contain dispossessed indigenous peoples were not new in 1868, so they were used to get them out of the way by treaty in Red Cloud’s War. One has to wonder if Red Cloud’s admonition to his brethren is still heeded by some today on reservations: “If Indians refuse to work, they will remain Indians, but if they follow in the paths of the palefaces and labor with their hands, there will in the years to come be no Indians, but only white men.” 87
Today, the epic battlefields are silent, peaceful witnesses to past slaughter. Pioneers no longer struggle on the Bozeman Trail toward Montana gold fields, and troops, strangers in a harsh, yet beautiful land, no longer trudge to their posts. The hoofbeats and war cries of mounted northern plains tribesmen hunting and fighting in the Powder River land are gone.
Triumphant warriors destroyed the forts soon after they were abandoned. Broken iron stoves litter the first of the Bozeman Trail forts, forlorn Fort Reno, perched above the murky Powder river. A marker on private land is the only testimony to Fort C.F. Smith’s existence. Visible under plexiglass, the charred remains from logs of once majestic Fort Phil Kearny and a rusted, broken piece of a sawmill are all that is left of “The Hated Post on the Piney” which once graced the plateau, the queen of the Bozeman Trail forts.
1 Lt. Col. Bradley, Fort C.F. Smith, to Dr. W.M. Matthews, Department of the Platte, Jan. 10, 1868. Letters Received, January 1868-April 1868. RG 95, Letters Received, 1824-1880, Montana Superintendency, National Archives Records Administration, Hereafter NARA.
2 Lt. Col. Bradley, Fort C.F. Smith, to Lt. Col. Litchfield, 15 March, 1868, 1821- 1920, RG 393, NARA.3 Col. Smith, Fort Phil Kearny, to the Adjutant Gen., Department of the Platte. Mar 2, 1868. Records of U.S. Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920, RG393, NARA.
4 Maj. Van Voast, Fort Reno to Litchfield, March 20, 1868. Records of U.S. Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920, RG393, NARA.
5 Col. Smith, Fort Phil. Kearny, to Post Chaplain David White, June 1, 1868. Records of U.S. Army Continental Commands, RG 393, NARA.
6 Col. Smith, Fort Phil. Kearny, to Litchfield, 11 July, 1868.
7 Maj. Burt, Fort C.F. Smith, to JAG, [Omaha], July 28, 1868, regarding proceedings of a board of officers concerning the shooting death of Mrs. Doyle. RG 393, NARA.
8 Thacher to Litchfield, Fort C.F. Smith, M.T., 18 May, 1868, Records of the U.S. Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920, RG 393, NARA.
9 Mackin, Fort Reno, D.T. to Todd,, 16 February, 1868, Van Voast to HQ, Dept. of the Platte. Omaha, 17 February, 1868. RG 393, NARA.
10 Litchfield Omaha, to Augur, 6 June, 1868, Records of the U.S. Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920, Department of the Platte. RG 393, NARA.
11 Gen. Ed. Paul C. Phillips. Historical Reprints, Ft. Russell and Ft. Laramie Peace Comm in 1867, Sources of North- west History No. 14, State Universityof Montana, Missoula. Reprinted from the Historical Section of The Frontier, a Magazine of the Northwest (State University of Montana, Missoula, vol. xi, no. 2, January, 1931), 5-12.
12 Phillips, Historical Reprints.13 Aston White, Secretary of the Commission, Ft. Laramie, D.T., to The Honorable O.H. Browning, Secretary of the Interior,
14 April, 1868. Murray Collection, Wyoming Room. 14 S. Doc. 452, 57th Cong., 1st Sess., Laws and Treaties v. II (Treaties) 1902. Ed. Charles J. Kappler, GPO, Washington, 1903.
15 “Expedition to the Black Hills,” Cheyenne Leader, March 30, 1868, 2.
16 “The Powder River Country,” Cheyenne Leader, May 15, 1868, 1.
17 “The Results,” Cheyenne Leader, May 21, 1868, 1.
18 General Orders No. 33, Headquarters, Department of the Platte, July 31, 1867, RG 393, NARA.
19 Sherman to Augur, Washington, D.C., 7 March, 1868. RG 393, NARA.
20 Cheyenne Leader, May 16, 1868, 1.
21 Ibid., March 30, 1868, 1.
22 Ibid., April 3, 1868, 1.
23 Ibid., May 15, 1868, 1.
24 Montana Post, June 19, 1868. 1.
25 Bradley, RG 393, NARA.
26 Burt, Fort C.F. Smith, to Litchfield, April 21, 1868, RG 393, NARA.
27 Burt, Fort C.F. Smith, May 18, 1868.
28 Burt, Fort C.F. Smith, May 18, 1868.
29 Cheyenne Leader, July 2, 1868, 4
30 Ibid., July 29, 1868, 4
31 Fort Reno Post Returns, March, April and July 1868. Fort Reno Post Returns folder, Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association Files, Wyoming room.
32 Fort C.F. Smith Post Returns, April, May, June, 1868, Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association Files, Wyoming room.
33 Record of Events, Ft. Phil Kearny Post Returns, 10-11. Fort Phil Kearny/ Bozeman Trail Association Files, Wyoming room.
34 Ashton to Browning, April 14, 1868, 4.
35 Smith, Fort Phil. Kearny to Assistant Adjutant General, Department of the Platte, Omaha, July 28, 1868. RG393, NARA.
36 Special Orders No. 80, Headquarters, Department of the Platte, Omaha, May 19, 1868. RG393, NARA.
37 Special Order #63, Headquarters,Ft. Phil Kearny, 9 June 1868, RG393, NARA.
38 Smith, Fort Phil. Kearny to AAG, Dept. of Platte, Omaha, June 21 and June 23.
39 Van Voast to Litchfield, Fort Reno, March 20, 1868, RG 393, NARA.
40 Barry J. Hagan, Exactly in the Right Place, A History of Fort C.F. Smith, Montana Territory, 1866-1868 (El Segundo, California: Upton and Sons 1999), 231.
41 Smith, Fort Phil Kearny, to Litchfield, July 14, 1868.
42 Barry, Exactly..., July 19, 1868.
43 “The Powder River Country,” Army- Navy Journal and Gazette of the Regular and Volunteer Forces (New York): Dec. 26, 1868, vol. vi., no. 19, whole number 279, 29. Microfilm, Uni Reel 2, 157, Hagan Collection, Wyo 355, Wyoming Room.
44 Fort Phil Kearny Post Returns, Wyoming Room.
45 Fort Reno Post Returns, Wyoming Room.
46 Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History ofthe American West (New York: Holt Paperbacks, Holt, Rinehart & Winston 1970), 449.
47 New York Times, June 17, 1870, 4.
48 Schrebeis, Charles, The Tragedy of Fort Philip Kearny. Monuments and Markers: The Frontier Ends, MS, 1942. Ch. 21: 1. 1942. Fort Philip Kearny, Banner, Wyoming.
49 John F. Finerty, Warpath and Bivouac, or The Conquest of the Sioux. A narrative of stirring personal experiences and adventures in the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition of 1876, and in the campaign on the British border in 1879 (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 1961): 48-54.
50 “American flag is raised over fort at Kearny,” Sheridan Press, May 30, 1938, 3.
51 Reese River Reveille, February 18, 1867, 4.
52 Grace Raymond Hebard and E.A. Brininstool, The Bozeman Trail: Historical Accounts of the Blazing of the Overland Routes into the Northwest, and the Fights with Red Cloud’s Warriors (Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1922): vol. ii, 179.
53 John D. McDermott, Red Cloud’s War (Norman, OK: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 2010), “Davis Wilson Diary”, 1:116, n. 26.
54 Report of General Sherman, November 5, 1866, “Annual Report of the Secretary of War, 1866”, 39th Cong., 2d sess., H, Ex. Doc. 1, 1866, 21. RG 393, NARA.
55 Report of the Secretary of War Ad Interim and General U.S. Army, War Department, Washington City, November, 1867, 40th Cong., 2d sess., House of Representatives, Exec. Doc. No. 1, 3. RG 393, NARA.
56 Journal of Lt. George H. Palmer, January 2, 1868. Hagan Bozeman Trail collection, Wyoming Room.
57 John C. Ewers, The Role of the Indian in National Expansion (National Park Service, Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior, 1939): 128 [Also see Red Cloud’s War, 277, note 38].
58 Allan Bourne, Lt. Col. U.S. Army, MS: Logistics: Dominant Factor in the Strategy and Tactics Against the Indians on the High Plains1865-1890, 1. Wyoming Room.
59 “The Results,” Cheyenne Leader, May 1, 1868, 1.
60 Murphy, William. “The Forgotten Battalion. Being a short chronicle of the hardships and conditions endured by Indian War veterans in the Fort Phil Kearney [sic] massacre of December 21st, 1866 and the Wagon Box Fight of August 2, 1867, as chronicled by William Murphy.” Annals of Wyoming, v. 7, no. 2 (1930): 393.
61 Martha Edgerton Plassmann, “Jim Bozeman’s Trail Took Off Many Weary Miles
on Route to Gold Fields,” Stevensville Northwest Tribune, (Stevensville, MT, June 6, 1924), 4.
62 Murphy, “The Forgotten Battalion,” 400-01.
63 Report of the Secretary of War, November 20,1868, ix-x, RG 393, NARA.64 Website: www.american-tribes.com/ Lakota/BIO/AmericanHorse.htm
67 Papers accompanying the report of general-in-chief, report of Lt. Gen. Sherman, HQ, Mil Division of the Missouri, St. Louis, Mo., October 1, 1867, 31.
68 Boston Daily Globe, October 27, 1912, 11.
69 Murray, Robert. “Commentaries onthe Col. Henry B. Carrington Image,” The Denver Westerners Monthly Roundup, v. xxiv, no. 3 (1968): 11-12/
70 Bisbee, Wiliam H. [Bisbee’s grand- son] “After All These Years”. Old Travois Trails, General Bisbee Number, v. ii, no. 6 (1942): 8.
71 McDermott, Red Cloud’s War, 542, 549.
72 Ellison, R.S. “John ‘Portugee’ Philips and His Famous Ride,” Old Travois Trails, John Phillips Number, v.ii, no. 1, (1941): 13.
73 Lt. George Templeton, Templeton Di- ary, 6 May, 1868, 73. Wyoming Room.
74 Dorothy M. Johnson, The Bloody Bozeman (New York: McGraw Hill, 1971), 334.
75 See Note 7, above.
76 Chaplain David White, Arizona Territory, letter to The Adjutant General, U.S. Army, August 12, 1872. Records of the Office of the Secretary of War, RG 107, NARA.
77 The American Army Chaplaincy: A Brief History (Washington. D.C.: GPO, 1951), 6.
78 Elsa Byron Spear, The Books and Photos of Elsa Spear, Fort Phil Kearny, Dakota Territory 1866-1868: Trailing the Campfires (The Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association: Banner, Wyoming, 1987), 77.
79 Sheridan Press, May 30, 1938, 1.
80 The Long Story of U.S. Debt from 1790 to 2011 in 1 Little Chart. Website: www. theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/11/ the-long-story-of-us-debt-from-1790-to- 2011-in-1-little-chart/265185.
81 Cheyenne Leader, April 3, 1868, 1.
82 Bourne, Logistics, 6-7.
83 Frederick Claus, Lincoln Kansas,to E.A. Brininstool, March 3, 1919, 7, Robert Spurrier Ellison Collection, BYU. Cited in McDermott, Red Cloud’s War, vol. ii, note 66, 437. For more about the wide discrepancy in the number of casual- ties at the Wagon Box, see McDermott, Red Cloud’s War, 436-437
84 Bourne, Logistics, 7.
85 Ibid., 6.
86 Report of the Secretary of War, November 20, 1868, I.
87 McDermott, Red Cloud’s War, 548, note 4.
Donald (Don) E. Fisk, (Lt. Col., USAF retired), is a native of Wichita, Kansas. He is an active member of several Indian Wars historical organizations. Don currently serving as a member of the CBHMA and the Fort Phil Kearny/ Bozeman Trail boards. He has been a volunteer ranger at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Don spent 32 years United States Air Force and the Kansas Air National Guard as a rated officer, serving in domestic and international areas of operations. He deployed to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. His long fascination with history led him to graduate with a B.A.in Ancient and Medieval European History for Wichita State University in 1972. Don has been a member of the Kansas Bar since earning his Doctor of Jurisprudence from Washburn University School of Law, Topeka, Kansas, in 1983. He lives in Sheridan, WY, with his cats, George, and Libby.