All Rights Reserved © Donald E. Fisk, 2018
Trail of Blood
The Bozeman Trail 150th Anniversaries: 1867
“Eyes torn out and laid on the rocks; noses cut off; ears cut off; chins hewn off; teeth chopped out; joints of fingers; brains taken out and placed on rocks with other members of the body; entrails taken out and exposed; hands cut off; feet cut off; arms taken out of sockets; private parts severed and indecently placed on the person; eyes, ear, mouth and arms penetrated with spear-heads, sticks and arrows; ribs slashed to separation with knives; skulls severed in every form, from chin to crown, muscles of calves, thighs, stomach, breast, arms, and cheek taken out. Punctures upon every sensitive part of the body, even to the sole of the feet and palms of the hand. All this does not approximate the whole truth”.1
The Fetterman disaster trauma did not disappear with the dawning of a new day. It was refreshed and deepened when the remaining bodies were brought in the next day, Dec. 22, and the grisly task of identification and burial began. Fear of an imminent attack hung over the garrison like a storm cloud; black, ominous and frightening. Would the warriors return to annihilate the remainder of the troops, civilians, women and children? How soon? Once the weather broke? Did those who rode from the fort into the teeth of the blizzard arrive at Horseshoe Station to send the telegram? Did it get through, or were the lines down? Would help arrive in time?
Inside the fort, no one could know that the warriors had no interest in more fighting that winter, and so were reasonably comfortable in their winter camps, content with their victory in “The Battle of the Hundred in the Hand”. The Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho were focusing on riding out the winter. Nor did those remaining inside the stockade know that Portugee Phillips and the other riders indeed had gotten through, and that Phillips went all the way to Fort Laramie, dramatically bursting into the ballroom at “Old Bedlam” during the Christmas night ball, surviving an epic ride.
Gradually, fears that the garrison would be overrun began to subside. After burying the fallen of Dec. 21st, the garrison turned its attention to the basic survival; warmth and food, and to routine military duties, including maintaining a vigilant watch.
A small detachment from Ft. Reno arrived on December 27th, delivering mail from the Department of the Platte Headquarters in Omaha. Thus it was made known that the headquarters of the new 18th Infantry regiment would be at Fort Caspar. 2 Reinforcements could not leave Ft. Laramie until Jan. 1st because of extreme weather, but once the relief party reached Fort Phil. on Jan. 16th with supplies and troops, it was heartily welcomed. 3
It also brought the news that Col. Henry Carrington was relieved of command and reassigned to Fort Caspar, where he was to command the 18th Infantry Regiment, an assignment he had requested before leaving to construct the Bozeman Trail forts. Lt. Col. Henry Wessels replaced Col. Henry Carrington as commander of Fort Phil Kearny. Wessels led the column, which included the exact reinforcements Carrington had requested; four infantry companies and two cavalry companies.4
“Carrington’s usefulness was at an end. Cooke did not have to take any summary action against Carrington. He was already on the way out, having laid the groundwork for a transfer on July 30, 1866, when he requested command of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry…On December 21, Headquarters, 1st Battalion, was ordered to Fort Caspar, where headquarters, 18th Infantry, was to be. Cooke had only to let the routine orders be issued, and Carrington would leave the Mountain District to join his regiment…” 5
Several questions arise from Carrington’s relief. Did Gen. Cooke act primarily to divert blame from himself? Would the effect have been any different had he waited longer? Did Cooke really have any choice? Had another officer commanded Fort Phil Kearny at the time of the Fetterman debacle, would not his superiors have expected Cooke to relieve that commander? How would it have looked to have done nothing in light of the disaster?
After reinforcements arrived, but before the departure of the 18th Infantry headquarters staff, overcrowding became a big problem; Ft. Phil Kearny was bursting with 657 enlisted men and 18 officers, not including the significant number of civilians employees (121) of the Quartermaster Department. 6
Carrington's request to command the new 18th Infantry regiment had been been granted. As glad as he was to get the assignment, he soon was dismayed to learn that the timing of his transfer would be widely seen as evidence that he was to blame for the loss of 81 lives in one swoop. The facts are clear however, that even had there been no Fetterman battle, Col. Carrington would have been relieved and reassigned, and there would have been no controversy.
The Long, Freezing March
Frances Carrington wrote: “Of all rides I ever had taken in army life or out of it, this one in an army wagon without springs, with mules on a gallop over such a road, or no road, exceeded all in utter misery.” 7 Either remarkably unconcerned for the safety and comfort of those who left Ft. Phil Kearny, or perhaps simply ignorant of the deadly weather, the Department of the Platte Headquarters ordered the leadership changes to begin no matter what.
Margaret Carrington and Frances Grummond in their respective books, Absaraka, Home of the Crows, and My Army Life, detailed the extreme hardships of moving from Fort Philip Kearny. Wagons were fitted with double canvas tops and iron stoves, and on Jan. 23rd, 1867, the Carringtons and their sons, Mrs. Grummond, accompanying the mutilated, frozen body of her late husband, Lt. George Grummond, Lt. and Mrs. Wands, their son and their servant Laura, the rest of the headquarters element and its escort left for Fort Caspar precisely as scheduled at 1:30 p.m., into the teeth of a vicious snowstorm, escorted by 40 infantry troops and 20 civilians. 8
The wagons rolled, leaving the magnificent post which Carrington's vision, guidance, and direction had created and to which the travelers had journeyed only six months before in over one hundred degree heat, having crammed in a lifetime of adventures, tragedy; good times and bad. Frances Carrington wrote years later that: “In one sense, that slowly moving train was a funeral procession, for my husband’s remains were placed in one wagon, that they might accompany me to my home in Tennessee for a resting place until the final Roll Call.” 9
The snow was so deep that it had to be shoveled away, and the party stopped at 10 p.m. after trudging only six miles. At 3:00 a.m., the moon climbed into an arctic-cold [-13F], clear sky and the wagons proceeded until camp was made along Crazy Woman’s Fork, where the temperature plummeted to -40F. Frances recalled the hellish conditions:
The protection of the hill behind us shielded us, otherwise we must have frozen to death. I am sure that the crazy woman whose mental aberration had suggested a fitting name for this stream must have halted here involuntarily under adverse condition similar to our own, as no sane woman could have tarried long in this place in midwinter. 10
Children were dying of cold, and men were multiplying expletives.” Some of the men, old soldiers too,…swore that they ‘would not budge another inch’, so intense was the cold and their need of refreshing sleep. Men begged for one more nap, but it was not sleepiness that they felt, but slow freezing. Col. Carrington had to lash their legs to get their circulation increased.
Dr. Hines fingers were black from the cold. 11
After resting three days at Ft. Reno, the caravan left for Ft. Caspar under charge of Lt. Joshua Jacobs. The wagon train approached Ft. Caspar in time to see the warriors which had been following them running off stock between them and the fort.12 It was at Fort Caspar that the hapless party learned that they must move on to Ft. McPherson, which had been designated as the new 18th Infantry headquarters.13
Mrs. Wands’ servant, Laura, exhibited a great deal of common sense, and an unmistakable lack of enthusiasm for continuing the arduous journey past Fort Caspar; in fact, she refused to leave! Mrs. Wands asked Frances to lend moral support for her plan to whip Laura with a strap.: “Act one, scene one; Mrs. Wands, with a double strap and hand uplifted ready for the fray; Laura with a menacing attitude, yet with furtive glances toward the exit. Then, frequent changes of position from one side of the stage to the other with quite appropriate action something in the nature of sparring….In military parlance, there was considerable skirmishing for so small a field of action, when, by one supremely misdirected aim, the door was struck instead of Laura, while the enemy hastily retreated through the door, bringing active hostilities to an abrupt close.” 14
As if things were not going badly enough, Henry Carrington accidentally shot himself on Feb. 6, while organizing a defense against what proved to be a false alarm of an Indian attack upon the column. In a testament to his grit, instead of returning the shorter distance to Fort Reno for immediate emergency medical treatment, he ordered the party to continue onward to Ft. Laramie, arriving on Feb. 9. 15
The next day, the Acting Adjutant of the 2nd Cavalry, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory Headquarters, directed the Assistant Quartermaster at Fort Laramie to provide transportation for the newly arrived caravan of three staff officers and 36 enlisted men for their permanent change of station, plus two wagons for Frances Grummond, one wagon for 18th Infantry records and one for band instruments, as well as an additional 12 wagons if Col. Carrington wanted them.16
Col. Carrington and his family rested at Ft. Laramie, while Frances went on to Ft. McPherson with Mrs. Wands and Mrs. Potter. The Carringtons and the last of the headquarters element joined them there on March 2. 17
Frances Carrington recalled: From Fort Sedgwick to Fort McPherson the driving sands of summer had been overshadowed by the deep and drifting snow of winter;…We had been to Abasarka and back again! All phases of life, all eccentricities of climate and temperature, all trades of exposure and danger, and intercourse with all styles of human nature had been experienced or encountered. 18
Margaret Carrington wrote:
Fort McPherson became home for a time. Here were some reminders of old times, as the spring of 1867 brought Indian depredations to the very vicinity. Here too were Indian councils, Indian visits, and Indian promises. Here too, the Special Indian Commission spent a month seeking interviews with the Ogillallas [sic] and Brule Sioux of the Republican and taking testimony of Colonel Carrington as to the facts concerning Fetterman’s massacre. Here, too, a court of inquiry met to take testimony… 19
Later, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, members of “The Commission”, on their way to investigate Indian affairs and the Ft. Phil Kearney [sic] massacre, asked to interview Frances, but having had quite enough anguish for a lifetime, she declined. 20 Seven weeks after leaving Fort Phil Kearny, Frances Grunmmond returned at last to her Franklin, Tennessee home and gave birth to a son one month later. 21 Her ordeal was finished.
The Army Reacts
Immediately upon learning of the disaster, Brig. Gen. Cooke issued Special Order 126, Headquarters, Department of the Platte, 26 Dec. 1866, ordering Bvt. Brig. Gen. Palmer to send two companies of the 2d Cavalry and four 18th Infantry companies from Fort Laramie to Ft. Reno. He ordered Lt. Col. Wessels to take these troops to Fort Phil Kearny, there to assume command with authority over forts Reno and C.F. Smith. 22 The order also relieved Carrington and reassigned him to command the 18th Infantry regiment and Ft. Caspar. 23
Trial by the Press
“Has any military event in history, whether scared or profane, immediately after its occurrence called forth more elaborate and general explanation, and involved more contradictory and absurd criticism, all ‘founded upon fact’, yet ignorant of that valuable article, than the massacre near Fort Phil Kearney, December 21st, 1866?” 24 Ten years later, Margaret Carrington’s words could be applied to the aftermath of the Custer fight. Both Margaret and Frances devoted several pages to contemporary newspaper accounts of the Fetterman battle.25
Frances commented upon early reports of the Dec. 21st disaster:
It was marvelous to see how enterprising and original certain news editors could be, when removed from all access to real facts, when they set their brains at real work. General news, already stale in the States, was remarkably fresh to us, and certainly very novel, as concerning ourselves. No correct accounts could have reached them except though the commanding officer’s [Carrington’s] courier to Laramie, 235 miles from his headquarters, …Mr. Lewis V. Bogy, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, on the 4th of January, 1867, informed congress of his own views, as follows:
‘Now, I understand this was the fact. The Indians being absolutely in want of guns and ammunition to make their winter hunt, were on a friendly visit to the fort, desiring to communicate with the commanding officer, to get the order refusing them guns and ammunition rescinded, so that they might be able to procure their winter supply of buffalo. It has been reported that some 3000 to 5000 warriors were assembled to invest the fort. This is not and cannot by any possibility be true. The number of Indians is not there. The whole is an exaggeration, and although I regret the unfortunate death of so many brave soldiers, yet there can be no doubt that it is owing to the foolish and rash management of the office in command at that Post.’ 26
An Albany newspaper printed this account:
“‘…when the last band of survivors were driven to the gates of the fort, knocking and screaming in vain for admission; when the last cartridge from revolver, carbine and rifle was expended; when the sabers and butts of musket were broken, and when, leaning against the gates, weary and bleeding and all resistance fruitless, all fell in one mangled heap of humanity, unsupported and uncared for.’ ” 27
The report continued: This sketch closed its recital with the startling announcement that the commanding officer, whom it doomed to future obloquy, with two full companies, was looking on, afraid either to fire or open the gates lest the garrison within should be massacred by the infuriated savages and the post should be sacked. Block-houses, of course, reserved their fire! Loop-holes shone with the glaring eyes of frightened soldiery, but not with the gleaming rifle! Four howitzers which could have swept the slope and bottom land, were silent and innocent of harm to anybody!” 28
“A tenderhearted, sympathetic, but temporary attache of the Indian Bureau knew just how the massacre occurred-viz., that the poor, hungry, starving women of the Sioux had come to beg, and their husbands had come to ask a little powder for hunting and to have an order revoked as to gifts of arms to Indians, and, being fired upon, they became desperate and took immediate vengeance.” 29
Contrasting with the image crafted by the eastern press was that of those who had experienced the terrors of warfare on the plains. The women at the Bozeman Trail forts had seen few, if any, combat injuries before journeying west. The Civil War combat veterans saw their share of corpses mangled by artillery and the horrific wounds caused by bayonet and Minie balls. Neither group however, was used to seeing bodies deliberately mutilated or people scalped before their eyes. It was difficult even for physicians to determine with certainty in many cases whether victims were mutilated alive or dead. Being tortured was a terrifying prospect.
Were the Troopers Tortured?
Whether the Plains Indians systematically tortured is present in the story of the Bozeman Trail as in many stories of the American west. Among whites, the conventional wisdom was “Save the last bullet for yourself.” On the other hand, George Bent, the son of the trader William Bent and his Southern Cheyenne mother Magpie stated: “The Plains Indians never tortured prisoners. They never took men prisoners, but shot them at once, during the fighting.” 30 Lynwood Tall Bull, a modern Northern Cheyenne, echoed Bent’s assertion. 31 However, the use of the words “always” and “never” are problematic. Two Army doctors who testified about the matter regarding the Fetterman troopers had conflicting opinions:
Dr. Hines, the Assistant Surgeon at Fort Phil Kearny at the time of the Fetterman fight, was asked about whether the Fetterman troopers were tortured to death or killed outright. He testified: “It would be difficult to tell. They may have been tortured to death, but I cannot positively say. The limbs of some were contorted.” 32
Dr. Horton, the Chief Medical Officer of the Mountain District and Post Surgeon of Ft. Phil Kearny, replied more certainly when asked to “Please state with what weapons the persons were killed, and the appearance of their bodies, whether they were mutilated and if so how mutilated.”.
Surgeon Horton stated: “…A few were disemboweled with knives which I believe was done after they were wounded…Col. Fetterman’s body showed his thorax to have been cut crosswise with a knife, deep into the viscera; his throat and entire neck were cut to the cervical spine all around. I believe that the mutilation caused his death…Lieut. Grummonds [sic] body showed his head to have been crushed by a club; and his legs were slightly scorched by fire. He also noted that one trooper had a large stake driven into his torso as high as chest! Curiously, the doctor said there was no evidence of torture. [The same had been done to Lt. Daniels six months earlier at the Crazy Woman crossing skirmish].33 When Dr. Horton was asked: “Was there any evidence by these bodies of torture?” , he replied: “No. In place of torture, by far the majority of men, in my opinion, were fallen upon by the Indians and butchered after they were wounded.” Note that the doctor said “after they were wounded”, not “after they were dead”, so they were alive when butchered, which does not convey in any sense a merciful, quick death.34
This is a most curious conclusion, if the simplest, most commonly accepted definition of torture is used: “The intentional infliction of pain by one upon another”. Were these were sadistic acts, done solely to inflict pain? The warriors could have cleanly and more humanely dispatched the troopers with a club or bullet to the head, and then done the mutilation.
The Curious Case of Corporal Adolph Metzger, aka “Metzler” and “ Metzes”
There is an Indian account of one trooper being carried off to camp and tortured to death. “The Indians’ Own Account of the Fort Phil Kearny Massacre” purports to be the story as told by the Sioux to the Crows. The story claimed that the trooper was bugler Adolph Metzger. 35 However, his name is listed with the casualties of Company C, Second U.S. Cavalry. 36
So it seems highly unlikely, if not impossible, that Metzger was missing. If he had been missing, his name should not have appeared in the list of those killed in General Order No. 1, and no mention of this was made by any of his fellow troopers. Yet another twist is the statement of John Guthrie, a fellow 2d Cavalry Company C trooper who would have known him: “… Bugler Metzes [sic] of Co. C we never found; it was thought that Col. Fetterman sent him to the fort for reinforcements and he was cut off by the Indians and we never found the bugler’s body, it was the last of the brave Metzes.” Guthrie was in the same company as Metzger, and should have been able to identify him had he seen him, since by all accounts he was not mutilated. Guthrie’s account is full of errors; he mentions also a bugler “Footer” of the same company-and “Lee Bontee the guide” among the dead. No record of these two men exist among the Fetterman casualties or even on the fort’s rolls. 37
To troopers and civilians, being captured meant certain torture. Sgt. Samuel Gibson, a Wagon Box fight veteran said: “I’ll tell you, Mr. Pitman, I was looking for the loop for the Trigger more than once during the first hour we fought them. “…about half of us pulled our shoes off after the fight started, tied the laces together, and made 2 loops of the laces,—one loop to go over our right foot and the smaller loop to fit over the Trigger of our Rifle so that if the Indians ever got inside the Corral we were going to stand up and after putting the small loop on the trigger, we would place the muzzle of the rifle underneath our chins and blow our heads off before we would be captured by Red Clouds [sic] Cut Throat Sioux Indians.” 38
This was echoed by Cpl. John Guthrie, Co. C, 2d Cav.: “Not satisfied with killing of the troops, the bodies of the dead were tortured…and those who survived the field were tortured, and with the realization that these Indians made a practice of taking their victims alive in the process killing and subjecting them to diabolical atrocities. 39 Several other prominent Army personnel believed that torture was practiced; Col. Carrington’s opinion was that prisoners were tortured: “The great real fact is that these Indians take alive when possible, and slowly torture” 40.
Lt. Wands stated that he thought many troops and been tortured,41 and 1st Lt. W.F. Arnold, 27th Inf. Post Adjutant and commander of Company A, testified that he believed that troopers were tortured, based upon the post surgeon saying that many had no mortal wounds.42 Capt. Tenodor Ten Eyck testified on July 5, 1867 about what he saw after the warriors were finished with the troopers: “…and a few with their bodies charred from burning…” 43
An 11th Kansas Cavalry officer wrote: ”A word right here in regard to the action of the men in stabbing and shooting the wounded Indian. About ten days before this, the Indians had captured one of our men, and had tortured and mangled his body in a shocking manner. Our boys swore that if they ever got hold of an Indian they would cut him all to pieces, and they did as stated.” 44 A Sergeant observed: “They never mutilated a dead man, just those who had been wounded.” Col. Dodge also believed they tortured, and told of slow death by burning. 45
Lt. Col. Custer noted the use of torture by the Lakota in July 1867, just seven months after the Fetterman fight, when he observed that fires had been lighted on the stomachs of some of Lt. Kidder’s troopers.46 Another incident involved the German family, pioneers who were ravaged by a small band of Southern Cheyenne in 1874 western Kansas. As if being gang-raped is not torture enough, one of the sisters, Rebecca, was burned alive afterward, and Lydia German, the wife and mother, had her unborn baby ripped from her while she was alive. In another instance, a wagon master was found, tied to a wagon wheel, “He was still roasting in the fire.” 47
There is much evidence of mutilations, some of which suggest torture, but there seems to be little eyewitness evidence. About all that can be safely said is that it is possible that torture was practiced. Whether certain/uncertain, likely/unlikely, probable/improbable, is largely a matter of opinion.
The Army Takes its Turn
Reacting to the Fetterman fight news, Lt. Gen. Sherman telegraphed from his St. Louis headquarters to General Grant on Dec. 28, 1866…”We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children. Nothing less will reach the root of this case.” 48
“A mixed military and civil commission of nine persons was ordered to meet at Colonel Carrington’s Headquarters at Fort McPherson. The meetings were held at my house…for thirty consecutive days.” The commission concluded that failing to give Carrington more troops and supplies was a mistake. In 1908, Carrington quoted commission language: “In regions where all was peace, as at Laramie in November, twelve companies were stationed; while in regions where all was war, as at Phil. Kearney [sic] there were only five companies allowed.” 48
Carrington went on: “The official report of the special commission, as found in Senate Document No. 33, 1st Session of the Fiftieth Congress, covered one hundred and fifty-five pages of typewritten foolscap paper, and after twenty years of neglect and suppression, was found upon the third demand of the United States Senate, ‘in a mass of waste-paper in the cellar of the Interior Department’, with no possible intent to have the same published.” 49
Col. Henry Carrington, Capt. Tenodor Ten Eyck, Capt. James Powell, Samuel Horton, James Weston, Raphael Gallegos, Michael Boyer, Lieut. A.H. Wands, Lieut. W.F. Arnold, Brig. Gen. P. St. Geo. Cooke, Capt. W.H. Bisbee, George Mackey, and Dr. C.M. Hines testified before the Sanborn Commission. In addition to his statement, Col. Carrington was asked only three questions, compared to 95 asked him by the Court of Inquiry. 50
President Johnson subsequently ordered a strictly military court, headed by Col. John Gibbon, to determine responsibility for the Fetterman tragedy. Both the Commission and Court of Inquiry focused primarily upon Carrington’s performance as commander and the major conflicts with the hostiles of December 1866. Officers, enlisted men and civilians testified. Although the witnesses did not agree on everything, all acknowledged the obvious; their opponents were hostile. Some believed that the safety of the area had gotten worse due to the army’s presence. 51
Was discipline a problem? “The completed main stockade gave the command a sense of security,…But perhaps this sense of security contributed to the lack of alertness on the part of the men and the inattention of Carrington and many of his staff to matters of training and discipline.”51 Some said discipline was poor among the enlisted and good among the officers, others said the reverse. Capt. Powell testified that among the officers, discipline was good, but among the enlisted ranks, it was chaotic because Col. Carrington did not support the attempts of his company commanders to enforce discipline among their troops.52
30 year old Pvt. George B. Mackey, Co. E, 18th Inf., who had arrived with the first troops at Fort Kearny, had a different perspective, testifying that the enlisted men’s discipline was good, but that there was ill feeling among the officers, but he did not know the reason, except that he thought the officers were jealous of Carrington.53
Mackey gave confusing testimony, saying that before Dec. 6, troops usually went out on their own without forming ranks, despite Col. Carrington’s September 14th order prohibiting it, and Capt. Brown usually went with them, but after Carrington’s September order, NCOs formed ranks, and two or three officers went along, but not in command of troops. 54 [Author’s Italics: This is an astounding revelation if true, it is clear evidence of Carrington’s failure at establishing and maintaining discipline]. Contradicting this assertion was 1st Lt. Arnold, 27th Inf. Post Adjutant, and Commander of Company “A”, who observed that officers who went out after Indians were generally detailed, except Capt. Brown. 55
Another account agrees that discipline was lax, with soldiers responding at will to Indian attacks and indicating that Carrington’s September order was not universally obeyed: Former soldier Thomas E. H. Lewis said: “On Dec. 21, 1866, we were out of logs…word came to us that the log train was corralled by Indians, and that Col. Fetterman was ordered to their relief. After getting my gun, I went to the rear of my company quarters to a sentry platform that was there, intending to jump over the stockade and join Col. Fetterman’s party.” Lewis stated that he heard Carrington, in the presence of other officers, tell Fetterman “not to go beyond the bluffs, but to keep up Big Piney and I will protect you with artillery.” 56
Such responses were apparently not limited to Fort Phil Kearny. An order preventing similar reactions had to be issued at Fort Reno. 57
Capt. Powell painted a bleak picture of the state of discipline: When asked how the enlisted men spent their time, he said: “…there were paroled prisoners from the guard house in the garrison, and who had the liberty of such, and there was a detachment of mounted men belonging to the post from the different companies, which detachment had no immediate commander…the paroled prisoners, being without guard seemed to exercise their pleasure if such it should be called, of breaking into the commissary and stealing provisions, and also breaking into the sutler’s store, which facts came under my official notice. The mounted detachment amused themselves principally with card playing, horse racing and getting drunk. The rest of the garrison performed their accustomed details [guard duty, fatigue duty, guarding wood trains] in a very loose manner.” 58
Powell continued, regarding responses to seeing Indians, “…I must say that there seemed to be a system of volunteering; officers going out in charge of men from the number of about 40 to about 60, which custom seemed to have been tolerated by the post commander.” 59 He also testified that “he was not aware of any special precautions or measure taken between Dec. 6-21 to "...provide against indians…" 60 Col. Carrington methodically refuted the allegations made by Capt. Powell by additional written sworn evidence given to the Commission at Ft. McPherson. 61
28 year old 1st Lt. Alexander H. Wands, 18th Inf., who had fought at the Crazy Woman crossing on July 20 enroute to his new duty station at Fort Phil. Kearny, was asked about hostile demonstrations, discipline and trooper’s duties. His answers were consistent with that of most witnesses. He noted that Col. Carrington had ordered 15 horses to be ready to respond at all hours and had three men picketed on Pilot Hill-one of whom would ride to the fort to tell the direction from which the warriors were coming, as the signal did not include that information.62
Questioned about the December 6th engagement, Wands replied: “I consider the conduct of the cavalry on that day, disgraceful, and of such a character to induce the belief on the part of the Indians that they could overcome the garrison or any party from the garrison, in an open fight. I do not consider the troops at Fort Phil Kearny at that time, in the state of discipline and drill then existing, at all fitted to fight Indians, for the reasons mainly that they had no drill and had seen little or no service, being mostly recruits.” 63
Powell and Lt. Wands agreed about the effect of the Indian’s successes: “It seemed to have emboldened them; and to encourage a great contempt for the men of the garrison.” 64 The troopers had similar contempt and overconfidence regarding their foes before the Fetterman fight; Fetterman and Brown begged to take 90 troopers and civilians to attack Indian camps in the Tongue River valley. 65
Brig. Gen. P. St. George Cooke, the commander of the Dept. of the Platte, testified that in response to Col. Carrington’s proposed visit to a nearby Cheyenne village to assess their threat level, he “…cautioned him against making risky detachments.” 66 He criticized Carrington by saying: “He apparently attached importance to these instructions, accounting thus for his quiescence under many assaults or attacks by the tribes around him.” 67 Perhaps Carrington was not the source of the alleged timidity for which he was criticized. Cooke said he learned of the massacre on December 27th or 28th [it was actually the 26th] and reacted by ordering Bvt. Brig. Gen. Wessels at Fort Reno “to relieve the whole line”, and ordered Col. Carrington to relinquish command of Ft. Phil Kearny and to proceed to Ft. Caspar. 68
Cooke thought discipline was lacking at all three posts. Significantly, he testified that well before the massacre [author’s italics] he had decided to relieve Carrington of command! He did not want him to command Fort Laramie, a prestigious, important assignment, but gave Carrington his posting of choice, Fort Caspar, the Headquarters of the 1st Battalion, which had then become understood to be his regiment proper, the 18th Inf. 69 The Fetterman disaster simply accelerated Carrington’s transfer.
The official December 6th skirmish reports convinced Cooke that there was poor discipline and lack of management. His opinion of the responders was that they were “…in fact, a disorderly mob, which went out in haste, at their will and very irregularly. These last particulars have received some confirmation in a letter from an officer stationed there now.” 70
1st Lt. Bisbee, later to become a General Officer, commanded Company E at Fort Phil. Kearny from July 16-December 10. He testified that troops were wholly engaged in building and guard duty while he was there. 71 He also told of irregular inspections of arms and ammunition, and that officers distrusted Carrington, but that there was harmony among other officers. Discipline was “very poor”, and Carrington’s orders were generally ignored. He echoed the disorderly manner in which the troops or parties moved out when going to attack Indians: “…troops were in the habit of dashing helter skelter over the stockade whenever an Indian appeared, without regard to orders, and generally before the commanding officer knew they were Indians about, or had issued any orders.” Bisbee emphasized that matters were conducted in an irregular and disorderly manner. 72
“CARRINGTON’S ORDER” AND RESPONSE TO THE WOOD TRAIN ATTACK
The most controversial part of the December 21st story is whether Capt. Fetterman disobeyed orders from his commander, Col. Henry Carrington. As with other elements of the story of that day, accounts differ. Lt. Wands testified that Carrington ordered him to tell Grummond to report to Fetterman, and tell him [Fetterman] under no circumstances to cross “the bluff” [Lodge Trail Ridge]. 73 Carrington repeated the order to Grummond, who acknowledged it. Carrington recalled Grummond after he had gone 200 yards and repeated the order, and Grummond once again acknowledged. Grummond was seen joining Fetterman one mile from the fort. The command crossed Piney Creek and halted on the crest of Lodge Trail Ridge, about four miles from fort, then crossed the ridge. 10-15 minutes later, [about 1100], came the “…rapid and continuous fire of musketry.” 74 Pvt. Sample testified that he heard Carrington order Fetterman to not cross lodge trail ridge. 75
[A fact that does not receive much attention is Lt. Wands’ testimony that the Fetterman column was engaged by 40 to 50 hostiles while crossing the creek and climbing Lodge Trail Ridge.]. Wands believed that Carrington acted decisively. 76 This conflicted with Powell’s testimony, which intimated that Carrington was incapable of reacting and that he took over as Executive Officer. 77
Carrington responded when questioned by the Court of Inquiry about why he felt it necessary to give Capt. Fetterman specific orders: “…believing that Col. Fetterman was determined to run great risks, for the sake of an Indian skirmish, I was unwilling that he should go without understanding my wishes. This was especially impressed upon my mind, on account of near, and increased number of Indians, referred to.” 78 In Carrington’s mind undoubtedly were the repeated assertions of Fetterman and Brown about being able to tackle the Sioux with 80 men. 79 [This raises a question whether Fetterman had ever told Carrington after the Dec. 6th skirmish that he had learned his lesson, or if he did, whether Carrington was convinced by what he said.]
Perhaps it was Lt. Grummond who had said it; Lt. Wands recalled him replying when asked if he understood the order Wands had given him from Carrington about not pursuing the Indians across the bluffs: “He did and should obey them to the letter, and would not make a dam’d [sic] fool of himself this time.” 80 [likely referring to the Dec. 6 action].
NUMBER OF WARRIORS
Another disputed fact is the number of warriors faced by Fetterman’s troops. Of course, the exact number will never be known. The most commonly accepted estimate seems to be 1,500. Michael “Mitch” Boyer, a 28 year old guide who had since moved to Fort C.F. Smith, testified that a Sioux, whom he had known since boyhood and believed reliable, said 1800 warriors were there, but only 900 fought. 81
James B. Weston, formerly an infantry private who was with Ten Eyck’s column, said that his experience had been that warriors usually appeared in bodies of 10-50, but when chased, they had “…large, well appointed forces in immediate reserve.” 82 On Dec. 21st,
I… had a good view of the Indians, whom I then estimated and still think were 150 in the immediate vicinity of the greatest number of bodies, a quarter of a mile in their rear, apparently drawn up in line of battle on horseback, about 500, and thence down the valley of Peno Creek upon the ridge and in the ravines on both sides and upon the bluffs to the left, appeared a compact body of Indians, as also as far was we could see down the Peno valley. 83
Pvt. Archibald Sample, 18th Inf.. also with Ten Eyck, testified before the Court of Inquiry that he estimated 3,000 Indians. 84 Capt. Powell said that he and Sgt. Bartlett saw about 2,500 Indians at Piney Creek and on hills, most mounted, awaiting a signal. 85
State of Army Forces in Early 1867
Regarding the state of the U.S. Army immediately prior to the Civil War, a senior army officer wrote: “All this time the two sides to the issue were sedulously hurling burning firebrands at each other when there was no fire department to quench the flames. A hose in Oregon, a nozzle in Florida, horses in Texas and an engine nowhere! The Army was fighting Indians while the factions were wrangling. Fighting Indians! Hunting wolves while the mother country lay in convulsions.” 86
In what condition did Col. Carrington leave the troops at Fort Phil Kearny? A letter written on January 18, 1867 from Brevet General Palmer to his boss, Brig. Gen. P. St. Geo. Cook, Commander of the Department of the Platte, Omaha, painted a bleak picture. Palmer stressed that troops were unprepared to fight Indians, as well as needing equipment and training before starting offensive operations as desired in later February.
Now I have an abundance of faith in our men if we can only have a fair time to drill and discipline them for an Indian campaign. At present however, the great mass of our men are new to the service, never having before served in the Army, and during the short time they have been in the service they have been at labor working at building Quarters and they are generally totally without any confidence in themselves, their horses or their arms. Half of our cavalry men would fall off their horses in a charge, and more than half the horses would run away with the men at a firing drill. Few or none of them have ever been drilled at firing the pistol from the horse and fro [sic] the saber its proper use is entirely unknown to them.
I am fearful that we will make haste to commit the folly of exhausting our forces before we come up with the enemy,…we will need to have every man a hero, and no man is a hero if he has frozen toes or sits upon a half starved horse. Our little command should [sic] be well drilled and disciplined and we should have plenty of officers and the troops should serve long enough together to know each other well and there should be that peculiar confidence among each other that comes from personal acquaintance. 87
Col. Carrington issued General Order No. 1, on January 1, 1867, establishing the Fort Phil. Kearny military reservation at about 25 square miles. 586 enlisted men, 12 officers and 139 civilians (employed by the quartermaster department) were reported on the rolls in the Feb. post returns. It noted that: "...health of the garrison not good, scurvy the prevailing complaint…
weather very cold." As winter gave way to spring and then the summer, the action in the area seems mostly to have been in the form of Indians trying to steal stock during the spring and summer months. 88
Brig. Gen. David S. Gordon arrived at Fort Phil Kearny on January 16th, 1867, accompanied by relief troops from Ft. Laramie. Years later, in a letter to Gen. Alfred E. Bates, he recalled the presence of scurvy. 89 Col. John Smith’s request to increase antiscorbutics for officers was denied. 90 Things moved slowly on the frontier; it took eight months for official steps to be taken to combat the affliction; meanwhile the troops suffered.91 Antiscorbutics at FPK as of 10-31-67 consisted of dried apples and peaches, molasses, syrup, pickles, cabbage, onions, kraut, codfish and mackerel.
In a May 1, 1867 letter, Bvt. Brig General Ennis Palmer, commander of C.F. Smith, complained of Indian attacks:
No train, escort, herd, or party of any description have escaped between this place and Fort Phil Kearny for a month I believe. The Indians are at every point in parties varying from ten to some hundreds disputing the roads but seeming more intent upon stealing animals than in making fight.
He also complained of white men who stole horses between forts Sedgwick and C.F. Smith. Palmer requested some cavalry at Ft. Casper [sic] to be transferred to Ft. Laramie to be placed into campaign condition. Gen. Palmer's concerns were not only external. He cited thievery and poor performance from Quartermaster employees: “Let it stop. Get rid of those villains first and attend to the Indians afterward the Indians are not half as bad as these Scoundrels.” 92
As summer arrived, Bvt. General Smith took command at Fort Phil Kearny and took steps to improve training and instill confidence in the 27th Inf. troops at Fort Kearny. Daily drill was ordered. 93 The official July roster tallied 269 enlisted men, [including eight deserters] and13 officers. The 2d Cavalry element had only eight enlisted men and one officer! The artillery consisted of one field howitzer and three mountain howitzers. 94 Col. Smith established procedures to quicken response times to wood train attacks, and specifically forbade troops from going beyond the line of hills, outside supporting from the garrison. 95 A daily garrison schedule was established: 96
Reveille-10 min. before sunrise, stable call immediately after
Breakfast 5:45 a.m.
Recall from drill-7:20, fatigue immediately after
Recall from fatigue-11:45
Recall from fatigue-6:00
Dress parade-20 min. before sunset
Undress parade and retreat sunset
The Hayfield and Wagon Box Dramas
These fights, unlike the 1866 engagements of Dec. 6 and Dec. 21, were very straightforward, uncomplicated actions. Crow Indians had warned of an impending attack but were not taken seriously. 97 The biggest controversy emerging from the first concerned the inexplicable delay of sending help the short distance from Fort C.F. Smith to the hay cutters. The Wagon Box incident gave birth to wild rumors, from the number of warriors involved and killed; survivor Maxx Littmann emphatically denied that more than 2,000 Indians fought, but felt there could have been 3,000 between the fort and the corral, and there was no way 1,100 were killed, 98 to the presence of metal lined wagon boxes and firing holes bored through the sides of the wagon boxes, and the most long-lasting, the dispute between two Wyoming counties over the actual location of the fight.
There are many similarities between the two 1867 battles: Both lost young officers within the first few minutes of battle, [because they opted to fight standing versus using cover] both occurred within five miles of a fort, both involved at least ten to one odds favoring the warriors, both saw the first use of updated Springfield rifles, both involved infantry troops fighting from fortified positions with little if any marksmanship training with newly issued rifles, both lacked coordinated, simultaneous attacks from the warriors’, both ended with the defeat of the attackers, the warriors in both fights were surprised and bewildered by the continuous firing from the troops and there were remarkably few casualties on both sides. And, as with all such encounters, the number of warriors killed is indeterminable. That too many were lost was Red Cloud’s opinion, as he supposedly said that he had lost the flower of his young men at the Wagon Box. 99
The Hayfield Fight
Before my body
I throw my warlike shield.
Lay on, Macduff
And damn'd be him that first cries,
-William Shakespeare, “MacBeth”, Act V, Scene VIII
As early as July 12th, Crow Scouts had warned Capt. Burrowes, commander of the troops at Fort C.F. Smith, that large numbers of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoes were in the Rosebud Valley, planning to attack soon. Burrowes’ requested reinforcements appeared on July 23rd with Lt. Col. Luther Bradley, who assume command of the post with two companies of the 27th Inf. With this column also came the new breechloading Springfields. The hay field was three miles from fort. Hay cutters were escorted daily to protect them and to prevent the Indians from burning the fields.
Being concerned about attacks, the troops had built a strong barricade of heavy logs and willow branches at the haying site, which proved to be a wise move, as about 1500 Northern Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota had gathered in the vicinity. The Crows repeated their warnings on July 29th and 31st about an impending attack, but were ignored by the troops, who thought the Crows wanted the hay field area for their own use. [Exactly how the Crows would have “used” this area is not explained]. 100
About 9 a.m., a single rifle shot split the air, and looking toward the haying machines, the troops were stunned to see a large body of warriors led by the Sioux “Bear That Grabs” rapidly approaching their positions. Ahead of them, running for their lives, were the hay cutters and the mule teams, dragging the heavy mowing machines. Waiting briefly for the enemy to get within range, the soldiers loosed a volley. 101
The warriors, anticipating a lull for reloading before the next volley, expected to smash into the barricaded troops. They were stopped cold when the usual delay did not happen. Regrouping, another massed assault was tried. When that failed, the warriors withdrew, preferring to engage in sniping. With a short break around noon, the fighting resumed and lasted until troops from the fort at last arrived about sundown.
Squaws and children were brought along for a grand outing, reminiscent of early Civil War battles, when such fights were considered to be a spectator sport. They watched from surrounding bluffs while the troops fought for their lives. Lt. Sternberg commanded the troops until a fatal bullet smashed into him. Sgt. James Horton then took control, and soon was seriously wounded. A civilian, D.A. Colvin, took charge for the duration of the fight. Each man resolved to keep the last bullet for himself. 102
On August 1, as 27th Infantry Lt. George Palmer led a timber detail to the mountains south of the fort, he noticed from high ground that hay cutters were under attack:
I could distinctly hear the firing at the Sternberg camp. I reached the fort and reported to Col. Bradley that Sternberg was fighting with 800 or 1000 Indians. Bradley seemed to think that there were but a small number of Indians and that Sternberg could take care of them. We could hear the firing at the camp but could not see the fighting-though a large number of squaws could be seen on a bluff overlooking the battlefield…Up to 4 p.m. not a man had been sent to the assistance of Sternberg nor had anyone been sent to learn of his situation-altho [sic] he had been fighting since 8 a.m. 103
Bradley claimed he did not know of fight until it had been going on for several hours and that no large body of Indians was seen. 104
Palmer said that firing was heard at the fort and Indians seen; Bradley ordered all personnel into the stockade and shut the gate! 105 His bizarre actions led to accusations of cowardice, but no action was taken against him. Finn Burnett, a civilian employee, said: “All the time I was employed there, I have no recollection of the commander ever going outside the stockade!” 106
Col. Bradley sent Lt. E.R.P. Shurley commanding 20 troopers as a relief column, but another company was sent to rescue Shurley. Both returned to the fort. A howitzer went with the third party. Not until sundown did the relief reach the hayfield. Two soldiers had been killed, three soldiers and one civilian were wounded. 107
The Wagon Box Fight, August 2, 1867
"He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tiptoe when this day is nam’d…
This story shall a good man teach his son...
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”
-Wm. Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act IV, Scene III.
Like the French who lost the cream of their knights at the battle of Agincourt, 1415, “ the day that chivalry died”, at the hands of seriously outnumbered English troops, Red Cloud supposedly said that the Lakota had lost the flower of their nation in this battle. 108 In these battles, technological advantages were decisive. At Agincourt, the English longbow won the day, while at the Wagon Box and Hayfield fights, it was the newly arrived breechloading rifles. Instead of the laborious reloading required of the muzzleloaders, the troops merely flipped open the “trapdoor”, removed one metallic cartridge and inserted a new one. In addition to the decreased time between firing, another very significant advantage was not having to stand to reload, thus denying exposed targets to the warriors.
Special Order 128, July 31, 1867, Headquarters, Fort Philip Kearny, ordered Capt. Powell to relieve Company A with 51 men of Co. C, 27th Inf., with 10 days rations and 150 rounds of ammunition per man to the pinery that day to escort the wood trains. 109 During the evening of August 1st, all was quiet, except a trooper’s dog, which was extremely agitated at something or humans lurking in the night in the Big Piney Valley. The next morning about 9 a.m., warriors swept down upon one of the two logging camps.110 The fight was on.
Most of the loggers and troops bolted for nearby cover, but one ran to the corral several hundred yards to the north. This corral was an oval fortification created from wagon boxes removed from the running gear. Two wagons on the west end were rolled into position at night to contain the animals. The foresight that caused the storing of arms and ammunition inside the corral saved the lives of those inside. Some depictions show defenders inside the boxes, but painter Bernard P. Thomas scoffed: “Common sense tells you that the soldiers were not in the wagon boxes with their bottoms on the ground. We all know that the heavy reinforcement of the floor was their protection.” 111
“Lieut. Jenness, however, was standing, facing Northwest from where the Indians came and saying to the three of us who were with him ‘Boys, there are a good many Indians coming but there may not be very much danger’. ‘Danger’ was the last word he uttered when shot though the left breast.’ This was at the very beginning of the fight…’ “Lt. Jenness, a most excellent young officer, fell while affording to his men a fine example of coolness and daring in the performance of his duty.” 112 The men, encouraged by his [Jenness’] example, beat back many charges until relieved.” 113
One has to wonder, “encouraged how?” By his remarkably stupid display of bravado magnifying the reality of what they were facing? Some time after the fight, Sgt. Samuel Gibson recalled: “We only found 6 dead Indians within 100 yards of the Corral, and the nearest dead Indian to the Corral we found after the fight was over, was at least 50 yards away from the Wagon Boxes at the West end, and he was a magnificent specimen of an Indian. 114
A jealous competition once existed between Sheridan and Johnson counties over the battle site. There was even a nasty dispute between historians Walter M. Camp and Grace Hebard, during which Camp said of her: “She is insanely jealous of any historian outside of her State who will come into Wyoming to study history, and she will do all in her power to frustrate their work.” 115
For a time, survivors Max Littmann and Gibson agreed about the location. W. M. Camp wrote to Littmann on July 11, 1916, and said that a group which included Gen. E.S. Godfrey, George B. Grinnell and others was able to locate the site with information from Littmann and Gibson. “On a little knoll, slightly raised above the plain, and a higher knoll to the north within rifle range of indians firing into corral. It was 40 rods [Author’s note: One rod=5-1⁄2 yards, so 40 rods=220 yards] from the Little Piney, the higher knoll is 500’ north.”
Gibson remembered a higher hill to the east with white rocks, out of gun range. A ravine ran to the Little Piney just east of the corral, and there was a level plain south of corral between the corral and the Little Piney. Eventually, a permanent marker with a 5’ length of gas pipe was set to mark that spot. 116
Camp called on Sgt. Gibson in 1917 and was surprised that Gibson now disagreed with Littmann and agreed with Hebard. According to Camp, more than one dozen old Indians who were in the fight said that the fight was on the Little Piney, and “..that some of the Indians were on ground higher than the corral where the soldiers were. The place that Gibson has located is on the highest ground in that vicinity which would place the soldiers on the highest ground.” 117
In 1972, W.G. Olson, a battle enthusiast, pointed out that the fight’s position was erroneously was marked on a USGS topographic map, based upon Sgt. Gibson’s 1908 and 1919 confirma-tions that the monument marked the correct spot. [This contradicts Camp’s statement above that Gibson and Littman agreed until sometime after 1916.] He also used the existence of shells contemporary to the battle date found before 1908, and the description of the location by three other survivors. 118
Both sites had been identified by participants, but two factors argue very heavily against the pipe marker site. First, the absence of archaeological at the the pipe marker. “In fact neither U.S. Army nor Native American firing positions are indicated for the pipe marker locality in Johnson County…No cartridge cases or bar anvils of the type used by soldiers in the battle were found near the pipe marker in Johnson County.” 119
Second, curiously absent from the arguments is any mention of the attacks from the north side of the corral. The warriors were able to use the sloping terrain to launch a sudden attack within one hundred yards of the defenders; no such feature exists near the pipe marker site.
The U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute is confident enough in the accuracy of the Sheridan county site to use it in its Atlas of the Sioux Wars and for staff rides.
Don’t Call Me “Shurley”!
The Fort C.F. Smith November 4, 1867 Post Return recorded that Lt. E.R.P. Shurley’s small detail was taking machinery to Ft. C.F. Smith, when it was attacked by Lakota braves and that Lt. Shurley and three enlisted men were wounded and two killed near Peno Creek [just south of present day Sheridan, Wyoming].120 Its existence unknown to other troops in the area, the small detachment was on its own for several hours.
“Col. Green and the officers with him recognized howitzer shots from Lieut. Shurley’s howitzer. Col. Merrill and the men with him heard firing, but did not recognize it as howitzer shots because of the distance, and paid it no particular attention, as frequent firing was heard that morning from parties who were in plain sight, hunting buffalo in the valley below. Colonel Green and his party, not knowing of any train escort on the road having a howitzer, except that under Major Noyes, supposed it was Maj. Noyes that they heard. His escort was well known to be large enough to whip any party of Indians who might attack him, and Col. Green felt no apprehension whatever for him…” 121
Lt. Shurley had quite an eventful temporary duty in the area. The Phil. Kearny post return of 1-5 November recorded: “Nov. 1st-Inspecting party from Dept. Headquarters arrived from Fort C.F. Smith, escorted by 40 enlisted men of the 27th Inf. in command of Lt. Shurley 27th Inf., were attacked by Indians at Goose Creek, 20 miles west of this post. [Author’s Note: Why the party was 20 miles west of its destination in known hostile territory is not clear.] Bvt. Lt. Col. Green with his command casually at this post and Co. “D” 2nd Cav., Bvt. Major Gordon, Cmdg, were sent to Lt. Shurley's relief. Nov. 5th-“Bvt. Lt. Col. Green’s command returned to this post, with Lt. Shurley [wounded]…”
1867 wound down with one last significant fight in early December when 60 warriors attacked a supply train one mile from the Crazy Woman crossing,. The train was relieved, but one white was killed and seven wounded. 122
The Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho had no strong objection to Ft. Reno, as it posed no particular threat and was not in good hunting territory. But the effect of building Fort C.F. Smith and Fort Phil Kearny blossomed into the polar opposite of what the forts were supposed to achieve. Instead of protecting travelers and thus encouraging travel to the Montana gold fields, Bozeman Trail travel was effectively shut down due to the forts, so the U.S. government inadvertently achieved the result sought by the Indian tribes. Looking back, one has to ask-why were the forts even there in 1867? Intended to protect travel on the Bozeman trail, there was none.
Col. Carrington’s superiors blundered colossally by assigning to him the responsibility of establishing the Bozeman Trail forts. Their naivety and poor judgment was astounding. Col. Carrington was expected to accomplish impossible tasks and given mostly untrained troops, too few in numbers and woefully inadequately supplied. He was perhaps the right man to build the forts, but the wrong one to effectively conduct combat operations against such a skilled foe. He not only had to fight the denizens of the Powder River valley, but most of his own officers also. Being a weak leader added to his problems.
Ironically, had Carrington not decided to send one last wood train on Dec. 21st, there would have been no disaster. Had Cooke relieved Carrington sooner, he would not have been assumed by the public to have been relieved because of the Fetterman incident. Subsequent Fort Phil. commanders were stronger leaders who greatly improved discipline and training, which improved morale and instilled confidence.
Fort Reno saw relatively little action during 1867, and C.F. Smith, although isolated, was relatively secure, in large part due to the large number of relatively friendly Crow living in the vicinity. With the exception of the underrated Hayfield fight, it did not see the action of its larger sister Fort Phil Kearny. The foresight of its doctor in ensuring vegetables were part of the troop’s diets prevented scurvy that plagued the other forts.
The Army’s activity on the Bozeman Trail was almost exclusively defensive, unlike the war of 1876-77. The Custer and Fetterman fights were fought on exposed terrain, while the Wagon Box and Hayfield fights included solid, defensive positions which attackers could not overcome.
One author said of Carrington: “It is perhaps relevant to compare him with General Terry. Both were lawyers; both had experienced subordinates who came to grief. Both accused those subor-dinates of disobeying orders. But whereas Custer has his defenders, Fetterman does not.” 123
Neither the Sanborn Commission nor the Military Court of Inquiry blamed Carrington for the Fetterman tragedy. Based at least in part upon the Court of Inquiry testimony, Gen. Grant
recommended that Carrington be court-martialed, but the Judge Advocate General declined to prosecute. Yet Col. Carrington did not feel that he had been vindicated in the court of public opinion, and spent the rest of his life defending himself. After much effort, the reports were made public.
The warriors had suffered huge setbacks at the Wagon Box and Hayfield fights, and it was almost nine years before any large scale battles occurred. They had gained an appreciation for the improved arms of the whites, and arming themselves with better weapons became a priority. They also saw the looming threat posed by white incursions into their breadbasket, and these factors proved disastrous for the U.S. Army.
The die was cast for June 25, 1876.