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Independence Day, 1863, witnessed climacteric scenes in the war dramas, east and west. The Federal victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, all-decisive in the history of the great American conflict, when considered in its entirety, had each its measure of immediate and local importance. The loss of all control of the Mississippi navigation meant for the Confederacy its practical splitting in twain and the isolation of its western part.

For the Arkansas frontier and for the Missouri border generally, it promised, since western commands would now recover their men and resume their normal size, increased Federal aggressiveness or the end of suspended. Initial preparation for such renewed aggressiveness was contemporary with the fall of Vicksburg and lay in the failure of the Confederate attack upon Helena, an attack that had been projected for the making of a diversion only. The failure compelled Holmes to draw his forces back to Little Rock.

Confederate operations in Indian Territory through May and June had been, as already described, confined to sporadic demonstrations against Federal herds and Federal supply trains, all having for their main object the dislodgment of Phillips from Fort Gibson. What proved to be their culmination and the demonstration most energetically conducted occurred at Cabin Creek,[797] while far away Vicksburg was falling and Gettysburg was being fought. A commissary train from Fort Scott was expected. It was to come down, escorted by Colonel Williams who was in command of the negro troops that Blunt had stationed at Baxter Springs. To meet the train and to reinforce Williams, Phillips despatched Major Foreman from Fort Gibson. Cooper had learned of the coming of the train and had made his plans to seize it in a fashion now customary.[798] The plans were quite elaborate and involved the coöperation[799] of Cabell's Arkansas brigade,[800] which was to come from across the line and proceed down the east side of the Grand River. Thither also, Cooper sent a part of his own brigade and at the same time ordered another part under Stand Watie to go to Cabin Creek and to take such position on its south bank as to command the crossing. It was a time when the rivers were all in flood, a circumstance that greatly affected the outcome since it prevented the forces on the east side of the Grand from coming to Stand Watie's support. As Foreman proceeded northward to effect a junction with Williams, he detached some Cherokees from the Third Indian, under Lieutenant Luke F. Parsons, to reconnoitre. In that way he became apprised of Watie's whereabouts and enabled to put himself on his guard. The commissary train, in due time, reached Cabin Creek and, after some slight delay caused, not by Stand Watie's interposition, but by the high waters, crossed. Federals and Confederates then collided in a somewhat disjointed but lengthy engagement with the result that Stand Watie retired and the train, nothing the worse for the hold-up, moved on without further molestation to Fort Gibson.[801]

The action at Cabin Creek, July 1 to 3, was the last attempt of any size for the time being to capture Federal supplies en route. The tables were thenceforth turned and the Confederates compelled to keep a close watch on their own depots and trains. Up to date, since his first arrival at Fort Gibson, Colonel Phillips had been necessarily on the defensive because of the fewness of his men. Subsequent to the Cabin Creek affair came a change, incident to events and conditions farther east. The eleventh of July brought General Blunt, commander of the District of the Frontier, to Fort Gibson. His coming was a surprise, as has already been casually remarked, but it was most timely. There was no longer any reason whatsoever why offensive action should not be the main thing on the Federal docket in Indian Territory, as elsewhere.

To protect its own supplies and to recuperate, the strength of the Confederate Indian brigade was directed toward Red River, notwithstanding that Steele had still the hope of dislodging the Federals north of the Arkansas.[802] His difficulties[803] were no less legion than before, but he thought it might be possible to accomplish the end desired by invading Kansas,[804] a plan that seemed very feasible after S.P. Bankhead assumed command of the Northern Sub-District of Texas.[805] Steele himself had "neither the artillery nor the kind of force necessary to take a place" fortified as was Gibson; but to the westward of the Federal stronghold Bankhead might move. He might attack Fort Scott, Blunt's headquarters but greatly weakened now, and possibly also some small posts in southwest Missouri, replenishing his resources from time to time in the fertile and well settled Neosho River Valley. Again local selfishness rose to the surface[806] and Bankhead, surmising Steele's weakness and that he would almost inevitably have to fall back, perhaps vacating Indian Territory altogether, became alarmed for the safety of Texas.[807]

Steele's recognition and admission of material incapacity for taking Fort Gibson in no wise deterred him from attempting it. The idea was, that Cooper should encamp at a point within the Creek Nation, fronting Fort Gibson, and that Cabell should join him there with a view to their making a combined attack.[808] As entertained, the idea neglected to give due weight to the fact that Cabell's men were in no trim for immediate action,[809] notwithstanding that concerted action was the only thing likely to induce success. Blunt, with scouts out in all directions and with spies in the very camps of his foes, soon obtained an inkling of the Confederate plan and resolved to dispose of Cooper before Cabell could arrive from Arkansas.[810] Cooper's position was on Elk Creek, not far from present Muskogee,[811] and near Honey Springs on the seventeenth of July the two armies met, Blunt forcing the engagement, having made a night march in order to do it. The Indians of both sides[812] were on hand, in force, the First and Second Home Guards, being dismounted as infantry and thus fighting for once as they had been mustered in. Of the Confederate, or Cooper, brigade Stand Watie, the ever reliable, commanded the First and Second Cherokee, D.N. McIntosh, the First and Second Creek, and Tandy Walker, the regiment of Choctaws and Chickasaws. The odds were all against Cooper from the start and, in ways that Steele had not specified, the material equipment proved itself inadequate indeed. Much of the ammunition was worthless.[813] Nevertheless, Cooper stubbornly contested every inch of the ground and finally gave way only when large numbers of his Indians, knowing their guns to be absolutely useless to them, became disheartened and then demoralized. In confusion, they led the van in flight across the Canadian; but enough of those more self-contained went thither in an easterly or southeasterly direction so as to create the impression among their enemies that they were retiring to meet the expected reinforcements from Fort Smith.[814]

But the reinforcements were yet far away. Indeed, it was not until all was over and a day too late that Cabell came up. A tragic sight confronted him; but his own march had been so dismal, so inauspicious that everything unfortunate that had happened seemed but a part of one huge catastrophe. He had come by the "old Pacific mail route, the bridges of which, in some places, were still standing in the uninhabited prairies."[815] The forsaken land broke the morale of his men--they had never been enthusiastic in the cause, some of them were conscripted unionists, forsooth, and they deserted his ranks by the score, by whole companies. The remnant pushed on and, in the far distance, heard the roaring of the cannon. Then, coming nearer, they caught a first glimpse of Blunt's victorious columns; but those columns were already retiring, it being their intention to recross to the Fort Gibson side of the Arkansas. "Moving over the open, rolling prairies,"[816] Nature's vast meadows, their numbers seemed great indeed and Cabell made no attempt to pursue or to court further conflict. The near view of the battle-field dismayed[817] him; for its gruesome records all too surely told him of another Confederate defeat.

In the fortunes of the Southern Indians, the Battle of Honey Springs was a decisive event. Fought and lost in the country of the Creeks, it was bound to have upon them a psychological effect disastrous to the steady maintenance of their alliance with the Confederacy, so also with the other great tribes; but more of that anon. In a military way, it was no less significant than in a political; for it was the beginning of a vigorously offensive campaign, conducted by General Blunt, that never ended until the Federals were in occupation of Fort Smith and Fort Smith was at the very door of the Choctaw country. No Indian tribe, at the outset of the war, had more completely gone over to the South than had the Choctaw. It had influenced the others but had already come to rue the day that had seen its own first defection. Furthermore, the date of the Confederate rout at Honey Springs marked the beginning of a period during which dissatisfaction with General Steele steadily crystallized.

Within six weeks after the Battle of Honey Springs, the Federals were in possession of Fort Smith, which was not surprising considering the happenings of the intervening days. The miscalculations that had eventuated in the routing of Cooper had brought Steele to the decision of taking the field in person; for there was just a chance that he might succeed where his subordinates, with less at stake than he, had failed. Especially might he take his chances on winning if he could count upon help from Bankhead to whom he had again made application, nothing deterred by his previous ill-fortune.

It was not, by any means, Steele's intention to attempt the reduction of Fort Gibson;[818] for, with such artillery as he had, the mere idea of such an undertaking would be preposterous. The defensive would have to be, for some time to come, his leading role; but he did hope to be able to harry his enemy, somewhat, to entice him away from his fortifications and to make those fortifications of little worth by cutting off his supplies. Another commissary train would be coming down from Fort Scott via Baxter Springs about the first of August.[819] For it, then, Steele would lie in wait.

When all was in readiness, Fort Smith was vacated, not abandoned; inasmuch as a regiment under Morgan of Cabell's brigade was left in charge, but it was relinquished as department headquarters. Steele then took up his march for Cooper's old battle-ground on Elk Creek. There he planned to mass his forces and to challenge an attack. He went by way of Prairie Springs[820] and lingered there a little while, then moved on to Honey Springs, where was better grazing.[821] He felt obliged thus to make his stand in the Creek country; for the Creeks were getting fractious and it was essential for his purposes that they be mollified and held in check. Furthermore, it was incumbent upon him not to expose his "depots in the direction of Texas."[822]

As the summer days passed, Cabell and Cooper drew into his vicinity but no Bankhead, notwithstanding that Magruder had ordered him to hurry to Steele's support.[823] Bankhead had not the slightest idea of doing anything that would put Texas in jeopardy. In northern Texas sympathy for the Federal cause, or "rottenness" as the Confederates described it, was rife.[824] It would be suicidal to take the home force too far away. Moreover, it was Bankhead's firm conviction that Steele would never be able to maintain himself so near to Fort Gibson, so he would continue where he was and decide what to do when time for real action came.[825] It would be hazarding a good deal to amalgamate his command,[826] half of which would soon be well disciplined, with Steele's, which, in some of its parts, was known not to be.

As a matter of fact, Steele's command was worse than undisciplined. It was permeated through and through with defection in its most virulent form, a predicament not wholly unforeseen. The Choctaws had pretty well dispersed, the Creeks were sullen, and Cabell's brigade of Arkansans was actually disintegrating. The prospect of fighting indefinitely in the Indian country had no attractions for men who were not in the Confederate service for pure love of the cause. Day by day desertions[827] took place until the number became alarming and, what was worse, in some cases, the officers were in collusion with the men in delinquency. Cabell himself was not above suspicion.[828] To prevent the spread of contagion among the Indians, his troops were moved to more and more isolated camps[829] across the Canadian[830] and, finally, back in the direction of Fort Smith. Ostensibly they were moved to the Arkansas line to protect Fort Smith; for Steele knew well that his present hold upon that place was of the frailest. It might be threatened at any moment from the direction of Cassville and Morgan had been instructed, in the event of an attack in prospect, to cross the boundary line and proceed along the Boggy road towards Riddle's station.[831] Steele was evidently not going to make any desperate effort to hold the place that for so long had been the seat of the Confederate control over the Southern Indians.

All this time, General Blunt had been patrolling the Arkansas for some thirty miles or so of its course[832] and had been thoroughly well aware of the assembling of Steele's forces, likewise of the disaffection of the Indians, with which, by the way, he had had quite a little to do. Not knowing exactly what Steele's intentions might be but surmising that he was meditating an attack, he resolved to assume the offensive himself.[833] The full significance of his resolution can be fully appreciated only by the noting of the fact that, subsequent to the Battle of Honey Springs, he had been instructed by General Schofield, his superior officer, not only not to advance but to fall back. To obey the order was inconceivable and Blunt had deliberately disobeyed it.[834] It was now his determination to do more. Fortunately, Schofield had recently changed his mind; for word had come to him that Congress had decided to relieve Kansas of her Indian encumbrance by compassing the removal of all her tribes, indigenous and immigrant, to Indian Territory. It mattered not that the former had a title to their present holdings by ancient occupation and long continued possession and the latter a title in perpetuity, guaranteed by the treaty-making power under the United States constitution. All the tribes were to be ousted from the soil of the state that had been saved to freedom; but it would be first necessary to secure the Indian Territory and the men of the Kansas tribes were to be organized as soldiers to secure it. It is difficult to imagine a more ironical proceeding. The Indians were to be induced to fight for the recovery of a section of the country that would make possible their own banishment. Blunt strenuously objected, not because he was averse to ridding Kansas of the Indians, but because he had no faith in an Indian soldiery. Said he,

    There are several reasons why I do not think such a policy practicable or advisable. It would take several months under the most favorable circumstances to organize and put into the field the Indians referred to, even were they ready and willing to enlist, of which fact I am not advised, but presume they would be very slow to enlist; besides my experience thus far with Indian soldiers has convinced me that they are of little service to the Government compared with other soldiers. The Cherokees, who are far superior in every respect to the Kansas Indians, did very good service while they had a specific object in view--the possession and occupation of their own country; having accomplished that, they have become greatly demoralized and nearly worthless as troops. I would earnestly recommend that (as the best policy the Government can pursue with these Indian regiments) they be mustered out of service some time during the coming winter, and put to work raising their subsistence, with a few white troops stationed among them for their protection.

    I would not exchange one regiment of negro troops for ten regiments of Indians, and they can be obtained in abundance whenever Texas is reached.

    In ten days from this date, if I have the success I expect, the Indian Territory south of the Arkansas River will be in our possession ...[835]

Blunt's mind was made up. He was determined to go forward with the force he already had. Ill-health[836] retarded his movements a trifle; but on the twenty-second of August, two days after the massacre by guerrillas had occurred at Lawrence, he crossed the Arkansas. He was at length accepting General Steele's challenge but poor Steele was quite unprepared for a duel of any sort. If Blunt distrusted the Indians, how very much more did he and with greater reason! With insufficient guns and ammunition, with no troops, white or red, upon whom he could confidently rely, and with no certainty of help from any quarter, he was compelled to adopt a Fabian policy, and he moved slowly backward, inviting yet never stopping to accept a full and regular engagement. Out of the Creek country he went and into the Choctaw.[837] At Perryville, on the road[838] to Texas, his men did have a small skirmish with Blunt's and at both Perryville and North Fork, Blunt destroyed some of his stores.[839] At North Fork, Steele had established a general hospital, which now passed from his control.

Following the unsuccessful skirmish at Perryville, the evening of August 25, Steele was "pushed rapidly down the country,"[840] so observed the wary Bankhead to whom fresh orders to assist Steele had been communicated.[841] Boggy Depot to the Texan commander seemed the proper place to defend[842] and near there he now waited; but Steele on East Boggy, full sixty miles from Red River and from comparative safety, begged him to come forward to Middle Boggy, a battle was surely impending.[843] No battle occurred, notwithstanding; for Blunt had given up the pursuit. He had come to know that not all of Steele's command was ahead of him,[844] that McIntosh with the Creeks had gone west within the Creek country, the Creeks having refused to leave it,[845] and that Cabell had gone east, towards Fort Smith.[846] It was Fort Smith that now engaged Blunt's attention and thither he directed his steps, Colonel W.F. Cloud[847] of the Second Kansas Cavalry, who, acting under orders from General McNeil,[848] had coöperated with him at Perryville, being sent on in advance. Fort Smith surrendered with ease, not a blow being struck in her defence;[849] but there was Cabell yet to be dealt with.

Steele's conduct, his adoption of the Fabian policy, severely criticized in some quarters, in Indian Territory, in Arkansas, in Texas, had yet been condoned and, indeed, approved[850] by General Kirby Smith, the person most competent to judge fairly; because he possessed a full comprehension of the situation in Steele's command. Smith knew and others might have known that the situation had been largely created by envy, hatred, and malice, by corruption in high places, by peculation in low, by desertions in white regiments and by defection in Indian.

The Confederate government was not unaware of the increasing dissatisfaction among its Indian allies. It had innumerable sources of information, the chief of which and, perhaps, not the most reliable or the least factional, were the tribal delegates[851] in Congress. Late in May, Commissioner Scott[852] set out upon a tour of inspection, similar to the one he had made during the days of the Pike regime. On his way through Arkansas, he stopped at Little Rock to consult with General Holmes and to get his bearings before venturing again among the tribes; but Holmes was ill, too ill to attend to business,[853] and no interview with him was likely to be deemed advisable for some time to come. Scott had, therefore, to resume his journey without instructions or advice from the district commander, not regrettable from some points of view since it enabled him to approach his difficult and delicate task with an open mind and with no preconceived notions derived from Holmes's prejudices.

Scott entered the Indian Territory in July and was at once beset with complaints and solicitations, individual and tribal. On his own account, he made not a few discoveries. On the eighth of August he reported[854] to Holmes upon things that have already been considered here, defective powder, deficient artillery, and the like; but not a word did he say about the Cooper[855] and Boudinot intrigues. It was too early to commit himself on matters so personal and yet so fundamental. The Indians were not so reticent. The evil influence that Cooper had over them, due largely to the fact that he professed himself to be interested in Indian Territory to the exclusion of all other parts of the country, was beginning to find expression in various communications to President Davis and others in authority. Just how far Stand Watie was privy to Cooper's schemes and in sympathy with them, it is impossible to say. Boudinot was Cooper's able coadjutor, fellow conspirator, while Boudinot and Watie were relatives and friends.

Watie's energies, especially his intellectual, were apparently being exerted in directions far removed from the realm of selfish and petty intrigue. He was a man of vision, of deep penetration likewise, and he was a patriot. Personal ambition was not his besetting sin. If he had only had real military ability and the qualities that make for discipline and for genuine leadership among men, he might have accomplished great things for Indian Territory and for the Confederacy. Almost simultaneously with the forwarding of Scott's first report to Holmes, he personally made reports[856] and issued appeals,[857] some of which, because of their grasp, because of their earnestness, and because of their spirit of noble self-reliance, call for very special mention. Watie's purpose in making and in issuing them was evidently nothing more and nothing less than to dispel despondency and to arouse to action.

Watie's appeal may have had the effect designed but it was an effect doomed to be counteracted almost at once. Blunt's offensive had more of menace to the Creeks and their southern neighbors than had Steele's defensive of hope. The amnesty to deserters,[858] that issued under authority from Richmond on the twenty-sixth of August, even though conditional upon a return to duty, was a confession of weakness and it availed little when the Choctaws protested against the failure to supply them with arms and ammunition, proper in quality and quantity, for Smith to tell them that such things, intended to meet treaty requirements but diverted, had been lost in the fall of Vicksburg.[859] Had not white men been always singularly adept at making excuses for breaking their promises to red?

In September, when everything seemed very dark for the Confederacy on the southwestern front, desperate efforts were made to rally anew the Indians.

Proposals[860] from Blunt were known to have reached both the Creeks and the Choctaws and were being considered, by the one, more or less secretly and, by the other, in open council. Israel G. Vore,[861] who had become the agent of the Creeks and whose influence was considerable, was called upon to neutralize the Federal advances. In a more official way, Commissioner Scott worked with the Choctaws, among whom there was still a strong element loyal to the Confederacy, loyal enough, at all events, to recruit for a new regiment to fight in its cause.

Nothing was more likely to bring reassurance to the Indians than military activity; but military activity of any account was obviously out of the question unless some combination of commands could be devised, such a combination, for example, as Magruder had in mind when he proposed that the forces of Steele, Cooper, Bankhead, and Cabell should coöperate to recover Forts Smith and Gibson, something more easily said than done. It was no sooner said than brigade transfers rendered it quite impracticable, Cabell and Bankhead both being needed to give support to Price. In charge now of the Northern Sub-district of Texas was Henry E. McCulloch. From him Steele felt he had a right to expect coöperation, since their commands were territorially in conjunction, and to consult with him he journeyed to Bonham.[862]

Viewed in the light of subsequent events, the journey was productive of more evil than good. With Steele absent, the command in Indian Territory devolved upon Cooper[863] and Cooper employed the occasion to ingratiate himself with the Indians, to increase his influence with them, and to undermine the man who he still insisted had supplanted him. When Steele returned from Texas he noticed very evident signs of insubordination. There were times when he found it almost impossible to locate Cooper within the limits of the command or to keep in touch with him. Cooper was displaying great activity, was making plans to recover Fort Smith, and conducting himself generally in a very independent way. October had, however, brought a change in the status of Fort Smith; for General Smith had completely detached the commands of Indian Territory and Arkansas from each other.[864] It was not to Holmes that Steele reported thenceforth but to Smith direct. Taken in connection with the need that soon arose, on account of the chaos in northern Texas, for McCulloch[865] to become absorbed in home affairs, the separation from Arkansas left Indian Territory stranded.

Fort Smith, moreover, was about to become Blunt's headquarters and it was while he was engaged in transferring his effects from Fort Scott to that place that the massacre of Baxter Springs occurred, Blunt arriving upon the scene too late to prevent the murderous surprise having its full effect. The Baxter Springs massacre was another guerrilla outrage, perpetrated by Quantrill and his band[866] who, their bloody work accomplished at the Federal outpost, passed on down through the Cherokee Nation, killing outright whatever Indians or negroes they fell in with. It was their boast that they never burdened themselves with prisoners. The gang crossed the Arkansas about eighteen miles above Fort Gibson[867] and arrived at Cooper's camp on the Canadian, October twelfth.[868]

Scarcely had Blunt established his headquarters at Fort Smith, when political influences long hostile to him, Schofield at their head,[869] had accumulated force sufficient to effect his removal. He was relieved, under Schofield's orders of October 19, and Brigadier-general John McNeil then assumed command of the District of the Frontier.[870] Colonel Phillips continued in charge at Fort Gibson,[871] his presence being somewhat of a reassurance to the Cherokees, who, appreciating Blunt's energetic administration, regretted his recall.[872]

Had the Federal Cherokees been authoritatively apprised of the real situation in the Indian Territory farther south, they need never have been anxious as to the safety of Fort Gibson. Steele's situation was peculiarly complex. As private personage and as commander he elicits commiseration. Small and incapable was his force,[873] intriguing and intractable were his subordinates. Of the white force Magruder[874] was doing his utmost to deprive him, and of the Indian Steele found it next to impossible to keep account. Insignificant as it was, it was yet scattered here, there, and everywhere,[875] Cooper conniving at its desultory dispersion. Instead of strengthening his superior's hands, Cooper was, in fact, steadily weakening them and all for his own advancement. He disparaged Steele's work, discredited it with the Indians,[876] and, whenever possible, allowed a false construction to be put upon his acts. In connection with the movements of the white troops, is a case in point to be found. Rumor had it that Bankhead's brigade, now Gano's,[877] was to be called away for coast defence. Cooper knew perfectly well that such was not Steele's intention and yet he suffered the Indians to believe that it was; in order that they might with impunity charge Steele with having violated their treaty pledges.[878] To nothing did they hold so rigidly as to the promise that white troops were always to support Indian.

In the role of Indian superintendent ex officio, Steele had no fewer difficulties and perplexities than in that of military chief. The feeding of indigents was a problem not easily solved, if solvable. In the absence of legislative provision, Hindman had instituted the questionable practice of furnishing relief to civilians at the cost of the army commissary and no other course had ever been deemed expedient by his successors. In July, 1863, Steele had ordered[879] practically all distribution agencies to be abolished, his reason being that only refugees,[880] Indians out of their own country, ought, in the season of ripened and ripening crops, to need subsistence and such subsistence, being limited in amount and derived altogether from the army supply, could be most economically handled by the regular commissaries. As winter approached and the necessity for feeding on a large scale became again pronounced, he was disposed to keep the whole matter still under army regulations so as to "avoid increasing competition."[881] The army exchequer could be subsequently reimbursed when specific appropriations for Indians should be made. Supplies of clothing had naturally to be otherwise provided for and for those he contracted[882] in northern Texas. Steele's whole policy with regard to the indigents was subjected to the severest criticism;[883] for it was based upon the idea that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Disappointed speculators and grafters were chief among his critics and, in spite of all his precautions, they outwitted him. Peculation appeared on every hand, white sharpers abounded, and Indians, relatively affluent, subsisted at government expense.

Another source of embarrassment was developed by the application of war measures, primarily intended for the states only, to the Indian country. Indian property was impressed[884] as occasion arose. Very frequently was this the case in the matter of transportation facilities, in that also of negro labor. It was Steele's opinion that the impressment law and the grain tithe law were not operative as against the Indians[885] but his necessities forced the practice, and execution by the army, under his orders, only intensified Indian opposition to him.

Indian opposition to Steele in tangible form took two directions, one of which, the advancement of Douglas H. Cooper, has already been frequently referred to. The other was the advancement of Stand Watie. During the summer, Stand Watie, as chief of the Confederate Cherokees, had authorized the formation of a Cherokee brigade,[886] the object being, the dislodgment of the Federals from Fort Gibson and their consequent retirement from the Cherokee country. The brigade had not materialized; but all Stand Watie's subsequent efforts were directed towards the accomplishment of its patriotic object. Love of country best explains his whole military endeavor. The enemy in the Cherokee country he harassed, the enemy elsewhere, he left for others to deal with. Generally speaking, in consequence, the autumn months of 1863 found Watie hovering around the Arkansas, the Cherokees and their neighbors with him, while Cooper, almost equally particularistic because the Choctaws and Chickasaws were his main support, concerned himself with plans for the recovery of Fort Smith.

The fervid patriotism of one leader and the overweening personal ambition of the other divided the Indians, then, into two camps and it was but natural that the idea should soon evolve that Indian interests could be best subserved by the formation of two distinct Indian brigades. To this idea General Smith, when appealed to, subscribed;[887] but General Steele was dubious about the propriety of putting Stand Watie in charge of one of the brigades. "He appears to exercise," said Steele, "no restraint over his men in keeping them together, and his requisitions upon the depots seem to be made with utter disregard of the numbers present or even on his rolls."[888] General Smith conceived it would be possible, by organizing the Indians into their own brigades and satisfying them that way, to draw off the white contingent and make of it a separate brigade, still operating, however, within the Indian country. To Cooper, the thought of a separate white brigade was most unwelcome. The Indians could be an effective force only in close conjunction with white troops. The separation of whites and Indians would inevitably mean, although not at present intended, the isolation of the latter and, perhaps, their ultimate abandonment.

The various proposals and counter-proposals all converged in an opposition to Steele. His presence in the Indian country seemed to block the advancement of everybody. Cooper resented his authority over himself and Stand Watie interpreted his waiting policy as due to inertness and ineptitude. So small a hold did the Federals really have on the Indian country that if Steele would only exert himself it could easily be broken. But Steele was neither aggressive nor venturesome. His task was truly beyond him. Discouraged, he asked to be relieved and he was relieved, Brigadier-general Samuel B. Maxey being chosen as his successor.[889] Again Cooper had been passed over, notwithstanding that his Indian friends had done everything they could for him. They had made allegations against Steele; in order that a major-generalship might be secured for Cooper and brigadier-generalships for some of themselves.[890] Boudinot was believed by Steele to be at the bottom of the whole scheme; but it had been in process of concoction for a long time and Steele had few friends. General Smith was the stanchest of that few and even Holmes[891] was not among them.

Obviously, with things in such a chaotic state, military operations in the Indian country, during the autumn and early winter were almost negligible.[892] Steele expected that the Federals would attempt a drive from Fort Smith to the Red River and he collected what forces he could for that contingency. Little reliance was to be placed upon the Cherokees since they were intent upon recovering Fort Gibson; but the Choctaws through whose country the hostile force would proceed, were the drive made, aroused themselves as in the first days of the war. They recruited their regiments anew and they organized a militia; but the drive was never made.[893]

The only military activity anywhere was in the Cherokee country and it was almost too insignificant for mention. Towards the end of November, the Federal force there was greatly reduced in numbers, the white and negro contingents being called away to Fort Smith.[894] The Indian Home Guards under Phillips were alone in occupation. With a detachment of the Third Indian, Watie had one lone skirmish, although about one half of Phillips's brigade was out scouting. The skirmish occurred on Barren Fork, a tributary of the Illinois, on the eighteenth of December.[895] Late in November, Watie had planned a daring cavalry raid into the Neosho Valley.[896] The skirmish on Barren Fork arrested him in his course somewhat; but, as the Federals, satisfied with a rather petty success, did not pursue him, he went on and succeeded in entering southwest Missouri. The raid did little damage and was only another of the disjointed individual undertakings that Steele deplored but that the Confederates were being more and more compelled to make.