Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

General Sheridan highly complimented me for what I had done, and informed me that I need not report back to General Hazen, as he had more important work for me to do. He told me that the Fifth Cavalry--one of the finest regiments in the army--was on its way to the Department of the Missouri, and that he was going to send it on an expedition against the Dog Soldier Indians, who were infesting the Republican River region.

"Cody," continued he, "I have decided to appoint you as guide and chief of scouts with the command. How does that suit you?"

"First-rate, General, and I thank you for the honor," I replied, as gracefully as I knew how.

The Dog Soldier Indians were a band of Cheyennes and unruly, turbulent members of other tribes, who would not enter into any treaty, or keep a treaty if they made one, and who had always refused to go upon a reservation. They were a warlike body of well-built, daring and restless braves, and were determined to hold possession of the country in the vicinity of the Republican and Solomon Rivers. They were called "Dog Soldiers" because they were principally Cheyennes--a name derived from the French _chien_, a dog.

After my conversation with the General, I went over to Hays City, where I met some of General Forsyth's scouts, who had just returned from one of the severest battles ever fought with the Indians. As it will not be out of place in this connection, I will here give a brief history of that memorable event.

The Indians had become quite troublesome, and General Sheridan had selected General George A. Forsyth to go out on an expedition, and punish them for their recent depredations. There was a scarcity of troops at Fort Hays at that time, so General Forsyth recruited a company of frontiersmen who could move rapidly, as they were to carry no luggage, and were to travel without the ordinary transportation. Thirty of these frontiersmen came from Fort Harker, and twenty from Fort Hays. It was certainly a small body of men, but nearly every one of them was an experienced hunter, guide, scout and Indian-fighter, and they could fight the red-skins in their own way.

In four days they were prepared to take the field, and on the morning of the 29th of August, 1868, they rode out of Fort Hays to meet the Indians. Lieutenant F.H. Beecher, of the Third Infantry, nephew of Henry Ward Beecher, was second in command; Brevet Major-General W.H.H. McCall, who had been in the volunteer army, acted as first sergeant; Dr. John Mowers, of Hays City, who had been a volunteer army surgeon, was the surgeon of the expedition; and Sharpe Grover was the chief guide.

Resting at Fort Wallace, they started September 10th, for the town of Sheridan, thirteen miles distant, where a band of Indians had attacked a train, killed two teamsters, and stolen some cattle. Arriving at Sheridan they easily found the Indian trail, and followed it for some distance. On the eighth day out from Fort Wallace, the command went into camp late in the afternoon, on the Arickaree, which was then not more than eight or nine feet wide at that point, and only two or three inches deep. It was evident to the men that they were not far from the Indians, and it was decided that the next day they would find them and give them a fight.

Early next morning, September 19th, the cry of "Indians" startled the command. Every man jumped for his horse. A half-dozen red-skins, yelling and whooping and making a hideous racket, and firing their guns, rode up and attempted to stampede the horses, several of which, together with the four pack-mules, were so frightened that they broke loose and got away. The Indians then rode off, followed by a few shots. In a minute afterwards, hundreds of Indian warriors--it was estimated that there were nearly one thousand--came galloping down upon the command from every quarter, completely hemming them in.

Acting under the order of General Forsyth, the men retreated to a small island, tied their horses in a circle to the bushes, and then, throwing themselves upon the ground, they began the defense by firing at the approaching enemy, who came pretty close and gave them a raking fire. The besieged scouts at the first opportunity threw up a small breastwork with their knives. The firing, however, continued back and forth, and early in the fight Forsyth was twice seriously wounded--once in the right thigh, and once in the left leg. Dr. Mowers was also wounded in the head, and soon died. Two other men had been killed, and several wounded. All the horses of the command were killed by nine o'clock in the morning.

Shortly afterwards over three hundred Dog-Soldier Indians commanded by old "Roman Nose," charged down upon the little band of heroes, giving them volley after volley; but finally the scouts, at a favorable opportunity, returned their fire with telling effect. "Roman Nose" and "Medicine Man" were killed, and fell from their horses when within less than one rod of the scouts, who thereupon sent up a triumphant shout. The charging braves now weakened, and in a few moments they were driven back. It was a brilliant charge, and was most nobly and bravely repulsed. The scouts had again suffered severely, having several men wounded, among the number being Lieutenant Beecher who died that night. The Indians, too, had had quite a number killed, several of whom had fallen close to the earthworks. The dismounted Indian warriors still continued firing, but as the scouts had thrown up their intrenchments sufficiently to protect themselves by closely hugging the ground, little or no damage was done.

A second charge was made by the mounted Indians about two o'clock in the afternoon, and they were again repulsed with a severe loss. Darkness finally came on, and then ensued a cessation of hostilities. Two of the scouts had been killed, four fatally wounded, and fourteen others were wounded more or less severely. There were just twenty-eight able-bodied men left out of the fifty. The supplies had run out, and as Dr. Mowers had been mortally wounded and the medical stores captured, the wounded men could not be properly cared for.

Although they were entirely surrounded, and one hundred and ten miles from the nearest post, the men did not despair. They had an abundance of ammunition, plenty of water, under ground only a short distance, and for food they had their horses and mules. At night two of the scouts, Tradeau and Stillwell, stole through the lines of the Indians, and started swiftly for Fort Wallace to obtain relief. It was a dangerous undertaking, but they were brave and experienced scouts. Stillwell was only nineteen or twenty years old, but he was, in every sense of the word, a thoroughbred frontiersman.

During the night the besieged scouts threw up their breastworks considerably higher and piled the dead animals on top. They dug down to water, and also stored away a lot of horse and mule meat in the sand to keep it fresh as long as possible. The Indians renewed their firing next morning, and kept it up all day, doing but little injury, however, as the scouts were now well entrenched; but many an Indian was sent to his happy hunting ground.

Night came again, and the prospects were indeed gloomy. An attempt was made by two more of the scouts to creep through the Indian lines, but they were detected by the enemy and had to return to their comrades. The next morning the Indians renewed hostilities as usual. Their women and children began to disappear about noon, and then the Indians tried to draw the scouts out by displaying a white flag for a truce. They appeared to want to have a talk with General Forsyth, but as their treachery was well-known, the scouts did not fall into this trap. The Indians had apparently become tired of fighting, especially as they found that they had a most stubborn foe to deal with.

Night once more threw its mantle over the scene, and under the cover of the darkness Donovan and Plyley, two of the best scouts, stealthily made their way out of the camp, and started for Fort Wallace with a dispatch from General Forsyth, who gave a brief summary of the situation, and stated that if necessary he could hold out for six days longer.

When the day dawned again, only a small number of warriors could be seen, and they probably remained to watch, the scouts and keep them corraled. The uninjured men attended to the wounded as well as they could under the adverse circumstances, but from want of proper treatment, evidences of gangrene appeared in some of the wounds on the sixth day. The mule and horse meat became totally unfit for use, but they had nothing else to eat, and had to eat it or starve. Under these trying circumstances the General told the men that any who wished to go might do so, and take their chances; but they all resolved to remain, and die together, if need be.

Relief came at last. Tradeau and Stillwell had safely reached Fort Wallace, and on the morning of the 25th of September, Colonel Carpenter and a detachment of cavalry arrived with supplies. This assistance to the besieged and starving scouts came like a vessel to ship-wrecked men drifting and starving on a raft in mid-ocean.

It was with the survivors of this terrible fight that I spent the few days at Hays City, prior to the arrival of the Fifth Cavalry.