CHAPTER XVII. MASSACRE OF CUSTER'S COMMAND.
I remained at Fort Sedgwick during the winter, and early the following spring I returned to Fort McPherson, under orders to report to Major-General Emory of the Fifth Cavalry, who had been appointed commander of the District of the Republican, with headquarters at that post. As the command had been almost continuously in the field, it was generally thought that we were to have a long rest. During the fall of 1869 there were two or three scouting expeditions sent out, but nothing of very great importance was accomplished by them. There was plenty of game in the vicinity, and within a day's ride there were large herds of deer, antelope, and elk, which I spent a great deal of time in hunting.
Early one morning in the spring of 1870 the Indians, who had approached the post during the night, stole twenty-one head of horses from a government contractor. They also ran off some of the government animals, and among the number my pony, Powder Face. Company I of the Fifth Cavalry was immediately ordered out after the savages, and I was directed to accompany them as trailer. We discovered their tracks after some difficulty, as the Indians were constantly trying to hide them, and we followed them sixty miles, when darkness set in.
We were within about four miles of Red Willow Creek, and I felt confident the Indians would camp that night in the vicinity. Advising the commanding officer to halt his company and "lay low," I proceeded on to the creek, where, moving around cautiously, I suddenly discovered horses feeding in a bend of the stream on the opposite side. I hurried back to the troops with the information, and Lieutenant Thomas moved his company to the bank of the creek, with the intention of remaining there until daylight, and then, if possible, surprise the Indians.
Just at break of day we mounted our horses, and after riding a short distance we ascended a slight elevation, when, not over one hundred yards distant, we looked down into the Indian camp. The Indians, preparing to make an early start, had driven up their horses and were in the act of mounting, when they saw us charging down upon them. In a moment they sprang upon their ponies and dashed away. Had it not been for the creek, which lay between us and them, we would have got them before they could have mounted their horses; but as it was rather miry, we were unexpectedly delayed. The Indians fired some shots at us while we were crossing, but as soon as we got over we went for them in hot pursuit. A few of the redskins, not having time to mount, had started on foot toward the brush. One of these was killed.
A number of our soldiers, who had been detailed before the charge to gather up any of the Indian horses that might be stampeded, succeeded in capturing thirty-two. I hurriedly looked over them to see if Powder Face was there, but he was not. Starting in pursuit of the fugitives I finally espied an Indian mounted on my favourite, dashing away and leading all the others. We continued the chase for two or three miles, overtaking a couple of Indians who were mounted on one horse. Coming up behind them I fired my rifle, when they were about thirty feet away; the ball passed through the backs of both, and they fell head-long to the ground; but I made no stop, however, just then, for I had my eye on the savage who was riding Powder Face. It seemed to be fun for him to run away from us, and run away he did, for the last I saw of him he was going over a divide about three miles away. I bade him adieu. On my way back to the Indian camp I stopped and secured the war-bonnets and accoutrements of the pair I had killed, and at the same time gently raised their hair.
We were feeling rather tired and hungry as we had started out on the trail thirty-six hours before without breakfast and taking no rations with us; but there was no murmur of complaint. In the abandoned camp, however, we had sufficient dried buffalo meat to give us all a meal, and, after remaining there for two hours to rest our animals, we commenced our return trip to Fort McPherson, where we arrived at night, having travelled one hundred and thirty miles in two days.
This being the first fight Lieutenant Thomas had ever commanded in, he felt highly elated over his success, and hoped that his name would be mentioned in the special orders for gallantry; sure enough, when we returned both he, myself, and the whole command received complimentary mention in a special order. This he certainly deserved, for he was a brave, energetic, dashing little officer. The war-bonnets which I had captured I turned over to General Carr, with the request that he present them to General Augur, whose daughters were visiting at the post at the time.
Shortly after this another expedition was organized at Fort McPherson for the Republican River country. It was commanded by General Duncan, who was a jolly, blustering old fellow, and the officers who knew him well said that we would have a good time, as he was very fond of hunting. He was a good fighter, and one of the officers said that an Indian bullet never could hurt him, as he had been shot in the head with a cannon-ball which had not injured him in the least, but had glanced off and killed one of the toughest mules in the army.
The Pawnee scouts, who had been mustered out of service during the winter of 1869-1870, we reorganized to accompany this expedition. I was glad of this, as I had become quite attached to one of the officers, Major North, and to many of the Indians. The only white scout we had at the post, besides myself, at that time, was John Y. Nelson, whose Indian name was Sha-Cha-Cha-Opoyeo, which interpreted means Red Willow fill the Pipe. This man is a character in his way; he has a Sioux squaw for a wife, and consequently a half-breed family.