Fort Phil Kearny Historic Site
Wyoming State Historic Site, National Historic Landmark and Interpretive Center
All Rights Reserved © Donald E. Fisk, 2018
TRAIL of BLOOD
The Bozeman Trail 150th Anniversaries: Part II-1866
By Don Fisk
By the close of 1865, it should have been obvious to the American government that interfering with the best hunting grounds in the fertile Powder River country was problematic. The impact of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado upon the northern tribes was not appreciated by the whites. The 1865 Platte Bridge Station fights should have been enough to make officials look closer at the area’s inhabitants, and the bumbling 1865 Connor expedition only made the situation worse, alienating the previously mostly non-hostile Northern Arapaho. The resistance exhibited by the Northern Cheyenne, Lakota and Northern Arapaho tribes was strong and determined.
“That the high military commanders supposed the Sioux would sit quietly while their country was invaded and posts built in their best hunting grounds is astonishing…The peace crusaders had preached so vociferously that the Sioux were friendly that even the military commanders seemed to have adopted that view.” The use of infantry in the area was also curious: “Connor’s force had been 3,000 cavalry, and now, Carrington was sent into that country with 700 infantry including bandsmen and not a single cavalryman. [author’s italics] This seems queer, but things were queer in the Indian country in1866.” 1
It was not that the government thought there was no danger in traveling the Bozeman trail; it simply underestimated it. Ordering forts to be built is evidence that army leaders were aware of a threat. The decision-making leading to the nature and number of the troops allotted to manning forts Reno, Phil Kearny and C.F. Smith was
a product of a faulty process today called “threat assessment”, which led to an ineffective course of action.
The majority of troops initially sent to man these forts was infantry, perfectly appropriate for attacking fixed objectives, but their opponents were not stationary. Except for the winter, the buffalo culture people were highly mobile. There were no fixed fortifications for the infantry to assault, no physical objectives to conquer and thereby subdue the opposition. Camps could be struck in minutes and the “walks a heap” men were easily eluded by their mobile foes.
The number of troops allotted to the task is further evidence that the military leaders back East were generally clueless about the conditions into which they sent forces. The impossibility of adequately performing what they were ordered to do took a long time to become accepted by army leaders. The stage was set for future
difficulties and the worst tragedy to befall the frontier U.S. Army before the battle of the Little Big Horn.
Alson Ostrander enlisted in the 2nd U.S. cavalry in 1866 and was posted to Fort Reno as a clerk, arriving on Nov 30, 1866. He said about the men he and his fellow soldiers faced: “As we got farther into the Indian country, I found that the enthusiasm for the wilds of the West I had gained from Beadle’s dime novels gradually left me.
The zeal to be at the front to help my comrades subdue the savage Indians-which had been stimulated by the constant calls for troops passing through my hands at headquarters-also was greatly reduced. My courage had largely oozed out while I listened to the blood-curdling tales the old-timers recited.
“But I was not alone in this feeling. When we got into the country where the Indian attacks were likely to happen any moment, I found that every other person in the outfit, including our seasoned scouts, was exercising all the wit and caution possible to avoid contact with the noble red man. Instead of looking for trouble and a chance to
punish the ravaging Indians, the whole command was trying to get through without a fight. Our little force we knew would be at a serious disadvantage should old Red Cloud sweep down on us with his horde of angry warriors.”2
Colonel Henry Beebe Carrington had spent the Civil War as an administrator and recruiter, never experiencing battle. His lack of combat experience caused serious friction between him and some of his subordinate officers at Fort Phil Kearny. Maj.
Gen. Pope, Commander of the Dept. of the Missouri, ordered Col. Carrington in March, 1866, “…to lead a column into the Powder River country to establish a military presence by establishing two new forts, Phil Kearny and C.F. Smith.” Old Fort Reno, previously Fort Connor, was to be moved 40 miles west and its two companies were to be relieved and mustered out of the army, having completed their Civil War service.3 Fort Reno was the most desolate of the Bozeman Trail Forts. A visit today confirms its isolation among a bleak and barren landscape. An observer wrote of the post in 1866: “…a post perched on a mesa overlooking Powder River and presenting sufficient ugliness and barrenness to warrant a gladness that we were not to remain there long…”4
Col. Carrington commanded the column of 260 men, 220 mule teams, plus ambulances of the 18th U.S. Infantry, 2d Battalion, as it departed Ft. Kearney, Nebraska, on May 19, 1866, guided into the wild country by the legendary Jim Bridger.5 Col. Carrington’s wife, Margaret, accompanied him. Lieutenant General William Tecumseh Sherman personally suggested that she keep a record of her experiences on the way to her new home in the Dakota Territory.6 Fortunately, Margaret took him seriously. Margaret Carrington’s Absaraka, Home of the Crows, and Mrs. Frances Carrington’s My Army Life, are rich in details of the hard life in the wild country. Together, they provide invaluable, first-hand accounts of northern plains life.
Also along were the couple’s sons, Henry, 8, and Jimmy, 5. 7 In today’s military, assignment to such a dangerous duty station would be classified as “a remote tour”, and dependents such as Margaret, children, and a very pregnant Mrs. Frances Grummond would not have been encouraged or allowed.
Despite Gen. Sherman’s apparent lack of concern about the danger of traveling into the Powder River country, Frances this wrote about leaving the relative comfort and security of Ft. Laramie: “The prospect of a long tedious journey to Fort Phil. Kearney, [sic] in another ambulance, and the possibility of disaster to myself over the rough
way through a hostile Indian country, would almost paralyze me with fear and foreboding…The officers at the Fort would not admit that there was any danger for even a small party following the established trail, but the apprehension, long maturing, and from signs and portents that can only be appreciated on the frontier, never left
me.”8 The entire party comprised a baggage wagon, a six soldier escort, two surgeons, one mail carrier, and Lt. and Mrs. Grummond.9
Even before first entering Fort Phil Kearny, Frances witnessed a shocking sight; “We had halted to give passage to a wagon…In that wagon was the scalped and naked body of one of their comrades, scarcely cold, who had been murdered so near the fort…”10 Margaret Carrington soon told her about the recent deaths of Ridgeway Glover and a wood train guard. Frances quickly learned the reality of life at the fort: “As they were surrounded by Indians, these incidents were matters of almost daily occurrence. Not a stick of timber could be cut, nor a load of hay secured for the garrison without conflict.”11
Other officer’s wives at the fort were Mrs. Bisbee, Mrs. Wands, Mrs. Carrington and Mrs. Horton.12 Probably like many at the fort, Frances was baffled that the Indians allowed the fort be built in the first place: “As yet it was perfectly certain that the leading chiefs had not settled upon any plan to attack the fort itself in mass. Why they did not do so earlier and before the fort was completed is still a mystery.”13 All three forts were in the same situation. Fort C.F. Smith was unfortified for many months,14 and Fort Reno was seriously undermanned. It is possible that the warriors had concluded that too
many of them would have been killed.
Frances was the most “entertaining” of the ladies at Fort Phil Kearny. Her largest mishap was accidentally setting fire to the Carrington’s unfinished house!15 Accustomed to servants. she was, in today’s language, “domestically challenged”. Her attempts at cooking, cleaning and mending were pathetic: “My cooking experiments were never a great success…”16, yet her southern grace and pregnant condition endeared her to the garrison and other women.
In a colossal bit of bad timing, a peace council was underway at Ft. Laramie when the column arrived. To avoid trouble, the mingling of troops and Indians was forbidden, “…-thus avoiding the possibility of collisions growing out of trades in furs, beads, and other articles, in which the Indian is generally the unlucky one…”17 [In other words,
cheated.] A Victorian lady, Margaret observed another cultural difference: “…with the special element of cleanliness just as critically wanting as is usual among the Indians of the Northwest.”18 Standing Elk, a Brule Sioux, told some whites that the warriors would
not allow a road, and that the troops would have to fight them.19 This was a clear warning, but if passed on to the authorities at the peace council, it went unheeded.
100,000 rounds of ammunition were expected to be furnished to the column, but on June 14th, it was found that: “Unfortunately there happened to be at the fort not a single thousand rounds for infantry arms…so it was assumed that we should have a happy journey, a happy peace, and a happy future.”20 The impossible to explain manning discrepancies between forts Laramie and Phil Kearny were noted by Gen. Sanburn, who, while acting as a special Indian Commissioner, noted that “in 1866, at Fort Laramie, where all was peace, there were twelve companies of regular troops, while at Fort Phil Kearny, where all was war, only four companies were
“allowed”.21 Carrington’s harping about the inadequate number of authorized troops led to a bizarre proposal; to not man Fort C.F. Smith.22 The fallacy of this proposal had to seem even more idiotic then than it does today.
The Forts Are Established
Fort Reno, originally Fort Connor, was the first post met by the column after leaving Ft. Laramie. Manned by two companies of volunteers, it was about 120 feet square. Its companies were relieved of duty, and they did not let the gate hit them on their backsides upon their departure, such was their joy at being emancipated. Col. Carrington directed that the post be strengthened by stockading it and adding two bastions. The column arrived on Friday, July 13th, 1866 at the site of the future fort Phil Kearny.
Although located several miles from the source of timber needed to build it, the site’s natural plateau, access to water and immediate proximity to the Bozeman Trail made it a good choice. After sending scouts to determine another possible location, the decision to build at the initial site was quickly verified, and work began immediately.
Col. Carrington and Capt. Ten Eyck surveyed and marked Fort Phil Kearny’s perimeter, and shortly thereafter soldiers began digging a three feet deep rectangular trench, 800’ x 600’, [one half mile] to enclose 17 acres. Set into this trench were over 4,000 arrow-straight, 11 feet long pine logs, planed flat on two sides to ensure no gaps in the stockade through which an enemy could shoot guns or arrows.23
Col. Carrington sent 167 officers and men, and an escort of 30 which returned to Phil Kearny, to the Big Horn river 90 miles away, on August 4, 1866. The troops began constructing Fort C.F. Smith. Eventually, adobe walls were on two sides and cotton-wood stockade walls on the other two sides. It was smaller than Fort Phil Kearny.24 The presence of many Crow warriors nearby played a big part in it not becoming a serious target of the opposing warriors until a fateful attempt in August, 1867.25
The three forts faced active opposition beginning in July, 1866. Although Ft. Phil Kearny is the most famous, the other posts saw their share of attacks. “Up to the 17th of July we hadn’t seen an Indian and had commenced to think the threat of Red Cloud at Fort Laramie was just a bluff, but the rest of that summer from July 17th, 1866, and
continuously thereafter until July 14, 1868, he was on the job. There was hardly a day passed at Phil Kearny, but to December 21, 1866-the date of the massacre-that we did not see Indians and others at Fort Reno and C.F. Smith had about the same experience. The usual order of the day was to make a forced march to the relief of some immigrant or freight train. In most cases, the Indians had taken their toll and gone before we arrived.”26
At none of the forts, especially at Phil Kearny, was it advisable to go very far without an adequate escort. The first seemingly idyllic days hid the danger lurking closely, and soon, no one was allowed outside the stockade unless under orders. The pressure of constantly seeing and hearing the deadly warriors and witnessing the corpses brought into the fort had to have a serious, detrimental psychological effect upon the women, children and even among the soldiers.
What was the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho situation? Bill Tall Bull, the great grandson of the famous dog soldier chief Tall Bull, explained how Cheyenne oral history worked: “Brave deeds were told over and over and would become part of the tribal history.” He gave an account handed down to him by his Northern Cheyenne ancestors. He said that the Lakota and Northern Arapahoe were camped with the
Cheyenne along the Tongue River during the winter beginning in 1866, roughly 30 miles from Fort Phil Kearny.
The larger than normal camp provided a measure of protection, but they were still wary of an attack. It also served to focus the might of many warriors against the unwelcome post. Men were kept busy tending horses, hunting and riding to the fort. “The winter camp life of the warriors was to be in instant readiness to defend their camps. Their horses were always near the lodges at night. Horses were tied in the front of the lodge so that they could be mounted on a moments [sic] notice.”27
If the significance of their entry into the Powder River country was lost on the whites, it was not so with the Lakotas, Northern Cheyennes and Arapahoes. Once the fort’s construction began, they recognized the seriousness of the threat of having whites permanently in their country. Red Cloud, of the Bad Faces clan, was already a renowned warrior who became the overall leader, while another Oglala hero, Crazy Horse became prominent, along with the Northern Cheyenne Chiefs Morning Star [Dull Knife] chief of the “Eater” band, and Little Wolf, the Elk Horn Society warrior chief. All were accomplished warriors, having gained their stature by fighting their Crow and Shoshone enemies.
They came to realize that fighting the strange people was going to be different. Warfare would become do or die for them, replacing the dangerous, sometimes deadly games of horse theft and the counting of coups. Sitting Bull was aware of the white incursion, but was not overly concerned, since it was a distance from his own band, and he and his warriors were engaged in fighting the whites in their own backyard.28
The events leading up to the Dec. 21st fight gave adequate notice of the warriors’ intentions and abilities. Yet the ardor for a fight held by Captains Fetterman and Brown, Lieutenant Grummond and civilians James Wheatley and Isaac Fisher was not dulled.
This day promised to be nothing new. A wood train would return, one would go out. Warriors would attack it, trying to lure the bluecoats into a trap. The wood train’s two parallel columns would corral, the warriors would withdraw, the train would go on, and the soldiers “quick response team” would return to the fort. Both sides would
repeat the activities, as they had been doing since July.
But something new was planned for this day. Carrington planned to catch the attackers between two independent columns. He led one column, likely an attempt to lessen some discontent caused by the undisguised, contemptuous attitudes of most of the junior officers towards him, while Fetterman led another column to relieve the wood
train and then to drive the attackers into Carrington’s force.29.
The warriors also had a plan, and it worked nearly to perfection. The decoy was too tempting. The soldiers took the bait and the columns became too widely separated to offer mutual support. Lt. Grummond slashed his way out of a trap, but Lt. Bingham and Sgt. Bowers were not so lucky. The force limped back into the fort. Margaret Carrington told how Capt. Fetterman said that he had learned his lesson and did not want another close call.30 [She is not explicit about this exchange, so it is uncertain if she personally heard it, whether her husband told her that it was said, or if Fetterman even said it.] If he did not say it, he should have at least admitted it to himself and changed his scornful attitude about the fighting qualities of his deadly, expert opponents. However, Col. Carrington testified that Lt. Grummond told him that he had a narrow escape, but would never be caught again.31 Is it possible that this statement was somehow attributed to Capt. Fetterman?
Another large scale attempt was made upon the wood train on Dec. 19th, but Capt. Powell obeyed his orders to relieve the wood train and not pursue the warriors, so no lives were lost. [if needed, ref. p. 39, 40, sen. exec. doc.]The inevitable disaster would have to wait for another day. Two days later, on the last day for wood trains to
operate, the catastrophe struck.
As with Custer’s last fight, no whites survived to tell their versions of the fight. But there is no big mystery, only the smallest of details remain unsolved. Bill Tall Bull related the Northern Cheyenne version of events: Warrior leaders planned to get the
soldiers outside of supporting distance from the fort. The decoys proved to be irresistible and tempted the soldiers over Lodge Trail Ridge, while Cheyennes and Arapahoes waited on the west side of the long ridge, the Lakotas waited east and north. At a predetermined signal, the warriors arose. The cavalry was farthest north, and it tried to extricate itself from the overwhelming numbers by moving south toward the infantry. The infantry’s antiquated Springfield muskets were no match for the clouds of arrows, and the troopers were soon overwhelmed, the last of the fighting occurred where the monument stands.32
In late December, various Crows who had recently been in a Sioux village brought news of the Fetterman disaster to Fort Reno. The Sioux told them that 1,500 warriors fought and that “…they had 12 warriors killed there, 3 died on the road and 1 in the village.”33
People watched from the fort as Fetterman’s troops crossed Lodge Trail Ridge, then vanished into history. As with the Little Big Horn fight, what exactly happened is unknown, except that all were killed. As emphatically stated by historian John Monnett, “Fetterman’s disobedience is NOT in question.”34 It appears to be well settled that Col. Carrington ordered Fetterman not to cross Lodge Trail Ridge, as there is no record yet found of anyone saying that he or she was in Col. Carrington’s presence and that he did not order Fetterman to not cross Lodge Trail Ridge. Col. Carrington testified that he wrote no order forbidding the maneuver.35
Either Fetterman got caught up in the excitement of the chase and completely forgot his Dec. 6th scare, or he was not sufficiently humbled. It makes one wonder whether he actually made such a statement to Carrington. Yet it is even more hurtful to Carrington’s case about Fetterman's disobedience for Carrington to allege that
Fetterman made the statement. The indisputable fact is that Fetterman and his command were seen going over the ridge.
What was the problem about going over Lodge Trail Ridge? It was a matter of distance. Going over or around Sullivant Hill would also put an ambush out of sight. Both locations were within earshot, so firing could be heard from either location. Assistance from the soldiers at Fort Phil Kearny was simply too far away from the other
side of Lodge Trail Ridge to be able to render timely assistance.
One can only speculate about what was in Capt. Fetterman’s mind as he looked into the valley from the crest of the ridge of no return. Were the decoys still being chased and the trap not yet sprung? Or did he see Grummond’s cavalry engaged and in desperate need of help? If the latter was the case, he had three options: 1. Remain on the ridge, send for reinforcements and wait and watch the slaughter until they
arrived, 2. Return to the fort, or 3. Go to the aid of the cavalry, knowing that it was likely that he and his men would be going to their deaths. The first two options seem unthinkable to a man with Fetterman’s record of Civil War gallantry.
In any case, the fight was on, and in a short time, as with the Custer fight, it was over. Northern Cheyenne oral tradition holds that Crazy Mule, a Cheyenne warrior, killed a soldier at the Fetterman fight simply by looking at him.36
Reacting to the heavy gunfire from the north, Carrington ordered Capt. Ten Eyck to lead a relief party. Upon cresting the ridge, Ten Eyck saw that there were hundreds of warriors and that the fighting was over, so he wisely declined the warrior’s invitation to be similarly slaughtered. He sent a rider to the fort for wagons and reinforcements. By the time they arrived, the warriors had departed, and Ten Eyck and his detachment loaded as many of the mutilated, grotesquely frozen bodies as the detail arrived at the fort after sunset.37
In the cold and gloom, Carrington asked for volunteers to ride through heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures to telegraph the newsmfrom the nearest station, Horseshoe Creek, near present day Glendive, Wyoming.38 Meanwhile, Carrington ordered troops to man the walls and remove the drifting snow during the night. He also ordered: “If, in
my absence, Indians in overwhelming numbers attack, put the women and children in the magazine with supplies of water, bread, crackers and other supplies that seems best, and, in the event of a last desperate struggle, destroy all together, rather than have any captured alive.”39 He could not know that there was no danger; the warriors
were quite content with their huge victory, and were warm in their tipis, with no thought of more fighting that winter.40
Carrington led a detachment on Dec. 22 to bring in the remaining bodies, and counted many pools of blood on the battlefield, indicating that the small force had put up stiff resistance. Universal mutilations were noted; 105 arrows were counted in the body of James Wheatley, who along with Isaac Fisher, had gone with Fetterman hoping
to use their new Henry repeating rifles.41 The death dealt that day was so complete that not even a dog who accompanied the soldiers was spared.42 Carrington’s messengers got through, and reinforcements came from Fort Laramie, although delayed by the blizzard. Anything else that happened during those last dark December days on the Bozeman Trail was anticlimactic.
Lesser Known Events
Many are familiar with the Fetterman fight/massacre, also known as “The Battle of the Hundred in the Hand”, the most famous event of Red Cloud’s War. Not as well known, but still interesting and significant, are smaller engagements that occurred all along the trail during the very active year of 1866.
Louis “French Pete” Gazzou, was a trader married to a Lakota or Cheyenne woman.43 The couple had several children. Despite having been warned of the danger of locating his camp on “Peno” [later Prairie Dog Creek], an isolated site “a little above where the Bozeman trail crossed the stream”, a few miles north of Fort Phil Kearny,
French Pete felt safe in doing so, because he was married to a Sioux woman.44
Upon its July 17th return to the new camp on the Little Piney, a detachment led by Capt. Haymond and Lt. Bisbee discovered Gazzou’s ruined trading camp. 18-year old Irish born Pvt. John Ryan was a member of this detachment. The troopers found the camp destroyed and Gazzou, with five other traders, slain. “It was a terrible sight…the
poor victims had been mutilated in the most horrible manner, and it gave us all a most convincing lesson on what our fate would be should we fall into the hands of the Indians.”45 The wife and five children were escorted to the fort, where they stayed for two months, then disappeared from the pages of history.46
The wife of “Gayzous“ told Col. Carrington about the tragedy. She was present when a group of Cheyenne warriors were visiting the trading camp. Unexpectedly, Red Cloud and other Lakota appeared and became agitated when told that the soldiers not only were not returning to the Powder River, but were going further north to
establish another fort. The Lakotas beat the Cheyennes, then left. The Cheyennes had warned the traders that if they stayed, the Lakotaswould kill them.47
The First Crazy Woman Creek Fight
The terrain of the Crazy Woman creek crossing of the Bozeman Trail invited ambushes. July 20th, 1866, saw the first of many. A small military train was trudging toward Fort Phil Kearny from Fort Reno. Reaching the creek, two officers, Daniels and Templeton, rode ahead to find good grass. They were returning to the train when Lt. Templeton saw 50-60 warriors a mere 150 yards away, closing fast. Lt. Daniels was killed before reaching safety, and Templeton barely escaped. His first indian fight was underway.
“Previously they had fired a few arrows, but seemed to want to capture me. Found the ambulance on the other side of the creek, got them back and soon had them and the wagons in corral on a little mound..but it was not a good place to remain…we moved about 3/4 of mile up the creek to a higher bluff.” He had the party dig rifle pits
and the whites repulsed continuous attacks, and it was not until the second of two more trains arrived that it was deemed safe to proceed. A train going to Fort Reno came along and camped with Templeton’s, and eventually all moved on together. “My opinion in reference to the noble red indian has changed lately; annihilation is now the word.”48
While others were fighting for their lives, the eccentric young photographer and reporter, Ridgeway Glover, who had gotten permission to travel to Phil Kearny with the train, wanted to film the event! “…the Indians looked very wild and savage-like while galloping around us; and I desired to make some instantaneous views.”49 He was firmly
prevented from doing so by Lt. Wands.
After the fight, Glover likely saw the body of Lt. Napoleon Daniels, the first fatality of the engagement. It contained three bullets, 22 arrows,50 and was missing its scalp and fingers, and “…he had been barbarously tortured with a stake inserted from below”.51
Glover wrote to his Philadelphia Photographer editor that Fort Phil Kearny, was “…hemmed in by yelling savages who are surprising and killing some one every day.”52 Mr. Glover remained remarkably unimpressed with the danger that was evident to even the simplest of minds. Among others, trooper John Ryan warned the eccentric about
wandering alone. On Sunday, Sept. 16th, Glover’s delayed but inevitable fate finally called. Despite being urged to wait for the wood train the next day, he alone left for the fort. On Monday, July 17th, two miles from the fort, Lt. Bisbee’s detail found his body.
Ryan experienced the horror of being with the detail which found the scalped and mutilated young man.53
Mr. Glover’s body was described: “The head was found a few yards off, completely severed from the trunk, scalped. The body was disemboweled, and then fire placed in the cavity. His remains, horribly mutilated, were decently interred, and search made for his apparatus, but it could not be found…”54
What may be found to be humorous today, but was probably not at the time, was the exchange between Pvt. Ryan, assigned to drive an ambulance to return Glover’s body to the fort, and Lt. Bisbee. Ryan saw hostiles to the south and north, and did not favor the likelihood of them intercepting him. “…I asked the officer if he did not think
the body would be all right where it was for awhile, and we could get it on our return. He was obdurate, however, and said ‘Young man, if you don’t obey my orders, it will go hard with you.’ I told him it would go hard with me also if the Indians caught me, but I had to go back just the same.”55
Nelson Story’s Cattle Drive
Nelson Story was a tough-as-nails entrepreneur who made a pile of money from the Alder Gulch, Montana Territory gold boom. Recognizing an opportunity, he traveled to Ft. Worth, TX and bought 1,000 [sources vary from 1,000-3,000] head of cattle. With 26 cowboys, he began driving them to the Montana gold fields. Forced to detour in
Kansas, he eventually intercepted the Bozeman trail and proceeded north.56
Lakotas first raided the outfit about ten miles south of Ft. Reno. The second attack happened a few days later at the Rock Creek crossing of the Bozeman Trail, just north of present day Buffalo, Wyoming. The herders, armed with revolvers and Remington rifles, handily repulsed the Lakotas. Story’s endeavor found itself stalled for two weeks,
being ordered to camp no closer than three miles from the fort, as Col. Carrington wanted the meadows saved for army stock. “We were camped three miles from the post, so far that the soldiers could not have rendered us any assistance if we were attacked, we were forbidden to proceed…General [sic] Carrington had one saddle horse left that the Indians had not captured. That three miles of grass was for the saddle horse, I suppose.”57 During this delay, one of the drovers was found killed by a host of arrows. This event added impetus to the desire to move on.58 Finally, during the night of Oct 22, the herd slipped away. Story delivered the herd to its destination with no
The audacious Story impressed the Lakota with his fearlessness, fighting ability, and his boldness in confronting them by entering their villages and communicating with them by sign language. According to his great-great grandson, Robert Story, it was passed down through generations of Story’s descendants, that it was during this drive that Nelson Story killed his first man, an experience that troubled him long afterward.60
[The first two topics are not fully examined herein, as they will be discussed more thoroughly in the next article because their investigations occurred in 1867.]
1. Col. Carrington was fired because of the Fetterman disaster
President Andrew Johnson signed an order on July 28, 1866 [effective date Jan. 1, 1867] reorganizing the First, Second and Third battalions of the 18th infantry regiment. Carrington had asked [July 30, 1866] to retain command of the First Battalion. His request was granted on November 23 by the U.S. Army Adjutant General’s office, Special Order No. 92. On the same date as the Fetterman fight, Fort Caspar became
the new headquarters of the 18th. Neither order was rescinded; Carrington’s order to leave Fort Phil Kearny simply was not signed until Dec. 26.61
2. Fetterman Disobeyed Orders
Disasters are always followed by second guessing, finger-pointing and covering backsides, and so it was with the Fetterman fight. Initially, Col. Carrington was the scapegoat. In time, the unwanted prize went to Capt. William Judd Fetterman. It was eventually almost universally accepted that he was to blame for leading himself and 80
troops and civilians to their deaths.
Two recent books challenge the appropriateness and accuracy of blaming Capt. Fetterman.62 Author Shannon Smith book examines the roles played by Margaret Carrington and Frances Carrington in doing what they could to protect or enhance their husband’s reputation.62 John Monett makes a case that Lt. Grummond blundered his cavalry into a death trap, and that Fetterman was obligated to try to help them.63
3. Captains Fetterman and Brown Shot Each Other
Col. Carrington stated: “I found Lieutenant Grummond’s body also; Fetterman and Brown evidently shot each other.” He saw their bodies on Dec. 22, and observed that both had powder burns to their heads.64 A Lakota account holds that three warriors saw “…the last three or four soldiers shoot themselves”, but they do not specify which ones
they were or where they saw them.65 Had they followed the sacred maxim of Indian fighting: “Keep the last bullet for yourself.”?
The Minniconjou warrior American Horse said he clubbed and thus unhorsed a trooper chief, then slit his throat.66 Surgeon Brevet Major Samuel P. Horton, of Fort Phil Kearny, examined Fetterman’s body before burial, and testified that the cause of death was the throat injury. It is telling that he mentioned nothing about a bullet hole in Fetterman’s head, but does mention one in Capt. Brown’s, citing it as the cause of Brown’s death.67 Only a forensic examination of Fetterman’s body can settle which account is right.
4. John “Portugee” Philips alone delivered news of the Fetterman fight.
Daniel Dixon accompanied him to Fort Reno and Robert Bailey was part of the team part of the way.68
1866 witnessed the biggest accomplishment and largest failure in Bozeman Trail history. To Col. Carrington rightly goes the credit for building the forts. His administrative, engineering and logistics skills, coupled with determination and leadership, were instrumental in their construction. Whether the biggest tragedy is also his responsibility or his fault is open to debate, as with the Little Big Horn and Gen. Custer.
Timing played a significant role. The last wood train left Fort Phil Kearny on Dec. 21st. Had the attack been planned for the following day, there would have been no Fetterman massacre, due to the brutal weather and lack of opportunity. There were no more significant tribal attacks, and certainly no offensive U.S. operations, until the
next spring, long after Carrington was gone. On Dec. 26th, Col. Carrington received the order relieving him of command of Fort Phil Kearny and transferring him to Fort Caspar. Lt. Col. Henry Wessels took command of the fort after Carrington.