CHAPTER XV. SIOUX WAR OF 1863.
In 1863, the Indians of the valley under the leadership of the celebrated Sioux war-chief, Spotted Tail, broke out, and the government determined to chastise them. An expedition was organized, which was to rendezvous at North Platte, consisting of the First Nebraska Cavalry, Twelfth Missouri Cavalry, a detachment of the Second United States and Seventh Iowa Cavalry, Colonel Brown, the senior officer, commanding the whole.
Some of the operations of this expedition and personal adventures have been told by George P. Belden, then belonging to the First Nebraska Cavalry. He was a famous trapper, scout, and guide, and was known as "The White Chief." He afterward became an officer in the regular army. His account runs as follows: -
The snow was quite deep on the plains, and knowing that the hostile Indians, who were then encamped on the Republican River, were encumbered by their villages, women, and children, it was thought to be a favourable time to strike them a severe blow. There were many Indians in our command, among others a large body of Pawnee scouts. Early in January the expedition left the Platte River, and marched southward toward the Republican. When we reached the river a depot of supplies was established and named Camp Wheaton, after the general then commanding the Department of the Platte. This done, the scouting began, and we were ready for war. Nor were we long kept waiting, for Lieutenant James Murie, who marched out to Short Nose Creek with a party of scouts, was suddenly attacked by a large body of Sioux, and six of his men wounded. Colonel Brown considered this an unfortunate affair, inasmuch as the Indians, having learned by it the presence of troops in their country, would be on the alert, and, in all probability, at once clear out with their villages. He determined, if it were possible, still to surprise them, and ordered the command immediately into the saddle. We pushed hard for Solomon's Fork, a great resort for the savages, but arrived only in time to find their camps deserted and the Indians all gone.
One evening, as we were encamped on the banks of the Solomon, a huge buffalo bull suddenly appeared on the bluff overlooking the camp, and gazed in wonder at a sight so unusual to his eyes. In a moment a dozen guns were ready to fire, but as the beast came down the narrow ravine washed by the rains in the bluff, all waited until he should emerge on the open plain near the river. Then a lively skirmish was opened on him, and he turned and quickly disappeared again in the brush. Several of the soldiers ran up one of the narrow water-courses, hoping to get a shot at him as he emerged on the open prairie. What was their surprise to meet him coming down. He ran up one ravine, and being half crazed by his wounds, had, on reaching the prairie, turned into the one in which the soldiers were. As soon as he saw him, the soldier in front called out to those behind him to run, but they, not understanding the nature of the danger, continued to block up the passage. The bull could barely force his great body between the high and narrow banks; but before all the soldiers could get out of the ravine he was upon them, and trampled two of them under his feet, not hurting them much, but frightening them terribly. As the beast came out again on the open bank of the river a score of soldiers, who had run over from their camp with their guns, gave him a dozen balls. Still he did not fall, but, dashing through the brush, entered the cavalry camp, and running up to a large gray horse that was tied to a tree, lifted the poor brute on his horns and threw him into the air. The horse was completely disembowelled, and dropped down dead. The buffalo next plunged his horns into a fine bay horse, the property of an officer in the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, and the poor fellow groaned with pain until the hills resounded. Exhausted by his exertions and wounds, the bull laid down carefully by the side of the horse, as if afraid of hurting himself, and in a moment rolled over dead. We skinned and dressed him, and carried the meat into camp for our suppers; but it was dearly bought beef, at the expense of the lives of two noble horses; and Colonel Brown notified us he wished no further contracts closed on such expensive terms.
While we lay encamped at the depot of supplies, on the Republican, Colonel Brown called for volunteer scouts, stating that he would give a purse of five hundred dollars to any one who would discover a village of Indians and lead the command to the spot. This glittering prize dazzled the eyes of many a soldier, but few had the courage to undertake so hazardous an enterprise. Sergeant Hiles, of the First Nebraska, and Sergeant Rolla, of the Seventh Iowa, came forward and said they would go upon the expedition provided they could go alone. Both were shrewd, sharp men, and Colonel Brown readily gave his consent, well knowing that in scouting, where the object is not to fight, but to gain information and keep concealed, the fewer men in the party the better their chances of escape.
On the day after Hiles and Rolla had left camp, Nelson, who had come down and joined the army as a guide, proposed to me that we should go out and hunt an adventure. My old love of Indian life was upon me, and I joyfully accepted his proposition. I applied to Colonel Brown for permission to set out at once, but he declined to grant my request, on the ground that it was not necessary or proper for an officer to engage in such an enterprise. I, however, coaxed the colonel a little, and he finally told me I might go.