The Buffalo Soldiers' War with the Plains Indians
from the written notes of Lt. John Biggelow, Jr., 10th Cavalry
The first regimental return was rendered on the 30th of September, 1866. It showed the aggregate strength of the regiment, present and absent, to consist of two officers,Col. Benjamin H. Grierson, and Lt. Col. Charles C. Walcutt,and gave the number of recruits required as 1092. Grierson was reported present with the regiment, and Walcutt absent on regimental recruiting service.
The first commander of the 10th Cavalry is doubtless known personally as well as by reputation to most of the readers of this sketch. His raid through Mississippi in 1863 is the historic operation on which his reputation chiefly rests. It has placed him among the foremost cavalry leaders of the War, and seems destined, as it becomes better known and more justly appreciated, to add honor and distinction to his name. Lt. Col. Walcutt never joined the regiment, and resigned shortly after his appointment. The recruiting for the regiment was in the main regimental, that is, by officers of the regiment detailed to recruit for it. At the end of the year 1866, the 10th Cavalry consisted of two field officers, one company officer, and 64 unassigned recruits. It was still without a staff or a single organized company. For seven months of the new year, the headquarters of the regiment remained at Fort Leavenworth.
The work of filling up the regiment went on but continued to make slow progress. This was due in the main to two causes, the want of clerical assistance at recruiting stations, and the high standard fixed for the recruits by the regimental commander. Recruiting officers were not allowed to hire clerks and had extreme difficulty in securing any among their recruits or the members of their recruiting parties. With a view to securing an intelligent set of men for the ranks, the colonel had Capt. Louis H. Carpenter, who was recruiting at Louisville, Ky., ordered to Philadelphia, Pa., to open a recruiting station there. Writing to Carpenter, the colonel says, after referring to the captain's knowledge of Philadelphia: "I requested you to be sent there to recruit colored men sufficiently educated to fill the positions of noncommissioned officers, clerks and mechanics in the regiment. You will use the greatest care in your selection of recruits. Although sent to recruit men for the positions specified above, you will also enlist all superior men you can who will do credit to the regiment."
During its last month at Fort Leavenworth the regiment lost heavily from disease, caused in the main by a cholera epidemic. From a death rate which did not average one a month for the preceding ten months, the loss by death during the month of July, 1867, rose to 23. On the 6th of August, 1867, the headquarters of the regiment left Fort Leavenworth for Fort Riley, Kan., where they were established on the 7th.
Let us take a general look at the regiment as it existed just prior to this change. We find the field and staff still incomplete, being composed as follows: Colonel, B. H. Grierson; Lieutenant-Colonel, J. W. Davidson; Majors, J. W. Forsyth and M. H. Kidd; Chaplain, W. M. Grimes; Adjutant, H. E. Alvord.
The regiment now comprises eight troops. Their designation, date of organization, original composition and color of horses are as below:
- Troop A.Color, bay. Organized Feb. 18, 1867. Captain Nicholas Nolan; Lieutenants G. W. Graham and G. F. Raulston.
- Troop B.Color, bay. Organized Apr. 1, 1867. Captain J. B. Vande Wiele; Lieutenants J. D. Myrick and J. W. Myers.
- Troop C.Color, bay. Organized May 15, 1867. Captain Edward Byrne; Lieutenants T. C. Lebo and T. J. Spencer.
- Troop D.Color, bay. Organized June 1, 1867. Captain J. W. Walsh; Lieutenants Robert Gray and R. H. Pratt.
- Troop E.Color, bay. Organized June 15, 1867. Captain G. T. Robinson; Lieutenant J. T. Morrison.
- Troop F.Color, gray. Organized June 21, 1867. Captain G. A. Armes; Lieutenants P. L. Lee and J. A. Bodamer.
- Troop G.-Color, bay. Organized July 5, 1867. Captain H. T. Davis; Lieutenants W. B. Kennedy and M. J. Amick.
- Troop H. Color, black. Organized July 2 1, 1867. Captain L. H. Carpenter; Lieutenants T. J. Spencer and L. H. Orleman.
These troops are posted at Fort Hays, Fort Harker, and other points along the Smokey River, Kansas, on the line of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, then in course of construction. They had been put in the field for the protection of the railroad as fast as they were organized. The strength of the regiment, present and absent, amounts to 25 officers and 702 enlisted men.
The first engagement in which any part of the regiment participated occurred a few days before the regimental headquarters left Fort Leavenworth. Troop I, under Captain Armes, numbering 34 men and two officers, fought a party of 300 Indians near Saline River, 40 miles northeast of Fort Hays. The engagement lasted six hours and resulted in the troops being forced to retreat with the loss of Sgt. W. Christy, killed, and Capt. Armes, wounded. On the 21st of the same month, Captain Armes had another fight, the second on record in the regiment. Forty men of his troop, together with 90 men of the 18th Kansas Volunteers, engaged about 500 Indians northeast of Fort Hays. The losses in this fight were one soldier killed and scalped, and 13 wounded; fifteen men of the volunteers and two guides wounded, twelve horses killed and three wounded.
Troops I, K, L and M, were organized from the new headquarters at Fort Riley as here indicated:
- Troop I,.Color, bay. Organized Aug. 15, 1867. Capt. G. W. Graham; Lt. Silas Pepoon.
- Troop K,.Color, bay. Organized Sept. 1, 1867. Capt. C. G. Cox; Lts R. G. Smither and B. F. Bell.
- Troop L,.Color, sorrel. Organized Sept. 21. 1867. Capt. R. Gray; Lt. C. E. Nordstrom.
- Troop M,.Color, mixed. Organized Oct. 15, 1867. Capt. H. E. Alvord; Lts P. L. Lee and W. R. Harmon.
- Troop M got all the horses that would not match any other troop and was called the "calico" troop.
In September 1867, the field officers were increased in number to their full complement by the appointment of Maj. J. E. Yard. In the same month the position of regimental quartermaster was taken by Lt. W. H. Beck. Thus were filled the last of the original vacancies in the field and staff.
The headquarters remained at Fort Riley until Apr. 17, 1868. The troops were about evenly distributed between Kansas and Indian Territory and were employed in the perfection of their drill and discipline, and in the protection of the Union Pacific Railroad and exposed settlements. The only engagement of this period took place about 45 miles west of Fort Hays. Sgt. Davis and nine men of Troop G were attacked by 50 or 60 Cheyennes. They drove the Indians off in confusion losing one private wounded.
From Fort Riley, the headquarters of the regiment went to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory. At this time General Sheridan was in the field directing military operations. The Indians had brought on a war by their characteristic restlessness and deviltry. They were attached to agencies to which they came in from time to time for supplies, but they were not confined to any reservations. General Sheridan determined to put them and keep them on reservations, or, if that could not be done, to show them that winter weather would not give them either rest or impunity. The consequence was the winter campaign of 1867-68, which resulted in the destruction of Black Kettle's band of Cheyennes, the worst lot of Indians in the territory. The 10th Cavalry was in the field and came in for a good share of hard marching and fighting.
On Sept., 15, 1868, Troop I, Capt. Graham, was attacked by about 100 Indians. It fought until dark, losing 10 horses killed and. captured, and killing seven Indians.
On the 17th of this month Lt. Col. G. A. Forsyth, with a party of white scouts, was attacked and "corralled" by a force of about 700 Indians on an island in the Republican River. Two of Forsyth's scouts stole through the Indian lines and brought word of the perilous situation of the command to Fort Wallace. Parties were soon on the way to its relief. First and last the following troops were started towards it from different points. Capt. Bankhead with about 100 men of the 5th Infantry, Capt. Carpenter with Troop H and Capt. Baldwin with Troop I of the 10th Cavalry and two troops of the 2d Cavalry under Maj. Brisbin.
Carpenter's troop was the first of these commands to arrive upon the scene. It found Forsyth's command out of rations, living on horse-flesh without salt or pepper. All its officers had been killed or wounded. Every horse and mule, too, had been killed.
Forsyth, who had been twice wounded, was lying in a square hole scooped out in the sand, within a few feet of a line of dead horses which half encircled the hole and impregnated the air with a terrible stench. Carpenter immediately pitched a number of tents in a suitable place nearby, had the wounded men carried to them, and the rest removed to a more salubrious air. Twenty-six hours later, Bankhead arrived bringing with him the two troops of the 2d Cavalry.
On the 14th of the following month, two weeks after he had returned to Fort Wallace with the wounded of Forsyth's command, Carpenter was ordered to take his own troop and I Troop of the 10th Cavalry and escort Maj. Carr of the 5th Cavalry to his command, supposed to be on Beaver Creek.
On the march he was attacked by a force of about 500 Indians. After proceeding, regardless of the enemy's firing and yelling, far enough to gain a suitable position, he halted his command, had the wagons corralled close together and rushed his men inside at a gallop. He had them dismount, tie their horses to the wagons, and form on the outside around the corral. Then followed a volley of Spencers which drove the Indians back as though they were thrown from a cannon. A number of warriors, showing more bravery than the others, undertook to stand their ground. Nearly all of these, together with their ponies, were killed. Three dead warriors lay within 50 yards of the wagons. The Indians were so demoralized by these results that they did not renew the attack and the troops accomplished their march without further molestation. They were back at Fort Wallace on the 2ist, having travelled 230 miles in about seven days. For their gallantry in the fight, which took place on Beaver Creek, the officers and men were thanked by Gen. Sheridan in a general field order, and Capt. Carpenter was breveted colonel.
Regimental headquarters remained at Fort Gibson until Mar. 31, 1869, when they were moved to Camp Wichita, I. T., where they arrived on Apr. 12. Camp Wichita, an old Indian village, was selected by Sheridan as a site for a military post and the 10th Cavalry was ordered there to establish and build it. Sometime in the following month of August the post was given the name of Fort Sill, by which name it will be designated in these pages.
The military duty of the regiment was now that of an army of occupation, to hold the country from which the Indians had been expelled and to keep the Indians within the bounds assigned them. It gave rise to frequent scouting for trespassers and marauders and occasional reconnaissance and demonstration in considerable force. More than once the garrison of Fort Sill had to apprehend an attack upon the post.
On June 11, Camp Supply was alarmed by a party of Comanches charging through it, shooting and yelling, with the object of stampeding the horses on the picket line, and they succeeded in stampeding a few. These were pursued by Troops A, F, H, I and K, 10th Cavalry, and Companies B, E and F, 3d Infantry, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Nelson, 3d Infantry. The Indians turned on their pursuers and attacked them, wounding three soldiers and killing two horses. Six Indians were killed and 10 wounded.
During August 22 and 23, the Wichita Agency was subjected to a fierce attack by the Kiowa and Naconee Indians.
The Agency was defended by Troops C, E, H and L, 10th Cavalry, commanded by Lt.-Col. Davidson. The main object of the attack, as expressed in the vigorous language of the hostiles, was to "wipe out" the buildings and settlement. Attempts were made to do so by setting fire to the prairie at different points, but the tireless and well-directed efforts of the defenders succeeded in extinguishing the flames and saving the buildings. Repeated assaults were made by the Indians in numbers ranging from 50 to 500, at different points of the line, all of which were repulsed with the infliction of heavy losses and great disorder upon the assailants. The decisive feature of the engagement was a charge made by Carpenter's troop. His men routed a body of over 150 warriors, who were about to take up a commanding position in rear of the troops. The loss of the troops was only four men wounded. That of the Indians was quite large, but owing to their well-known custom of carrying off their dead and wounded, could not be definitely ascertained.
From Fort Sill, the regimental headquarters moved back to Fort Gibson. They left Fort Sill on June, 5, 1872. During the three years and two months of their stay at that station a majority of the regiment for a time there were eleven troops was constantly at headquarters. The monthly rate of desertion fell from 7 to 3 and the rate of discharge by court-martial from 2.5 to 1.5. In fact, the deportment of the regiment attested the advantage to discipline of large commands and varied and interesting occupation for the troops.
Among the stations other than Fort Sill, held by troops of the 10th Cavalry, were Forts Dodge, Gibson and Arbuckle, Camp Supply and Cheyenne Agency. Having remained at Fort Gibson until Apr. 23, 1873 the regimental headquarters then returned to Fort Sill. In the meantime there had been a few skirmishes unattended by any casualties.
A movement of troops was now under way looking to a transfer of the regiment to the Department of Texas, and the end of April found Troops E, I and L at Fort Richardson, Texas; and Troops C, D and F en route, the two former for Fort Griffin, the latter for Fort Concho, Texas. The headquarters were reestablished at Fort Sill on May 4, 1873, and remained there until the March 27, 1875.
During this time, the regiment continued serving partly in Texas and partly in the Indian Territory. The troops that were serving in the Indian Territory took part in the campaign of 1874-75 against the Kiowas and Comanches. This campaign was but a continuation of the campaign of 1867-68, and, like the latter, was directed by Gen. Sheridan. There were four columns in the field operating separately under the following commanders:
Lt. Col. Neill, 6th Cavalry; Col. N. A. Miles, 5th Infantry; Lt. Col. Davidson, 10th Cavalry; Col. R. S. Mackenzie, 4th Cavalry.
The first capture of the campaign was made by a portion of Davidson's column. On October 25, 1874, Troops B and M, 10th Cavalry, and one company of the 11th Infantry, under command of Maj. Schofield, while in pursuit of Indians near Elk Creek, pressed them so hard that the whole band surrendered. They numbered 68 warriors, 276 squaws and children, and about 1,500 ponies. These prisoners, and others taken subsequently, were put in camp at Fort Sill, the more dangerous being closely confined. At the close of the campaign, the ringleaders were sent to Fort Marion, Florida, under charge of Capt. Pratt. This officer never returned to the regiment. He is now justly distinguished for his work as an educator of Indians, especially in the superintendence of the Carlisle Indian School.
On Apr. 6, 1875, Black Horse, one of the Cheyenne ringleaders who was billeted at Fort Marion, broke from his guard at Cheyenne Agency and ran towards the camp of his people near by. He was pursued by Capt. Bennett, 5th Infantry, with the guard, who fired upon Black Horse and killed him. Several shots passed beyond him and wounded some people in the camp. After firing a volley of bullets and arrows at the guard, about one-half of the Cheyenne tribe abandoned their camp and fled to a group of sand-hills on the south side of the Canadian River opposite the Cheyenne Agency.
They were followed by a company of the 5th Infantry, a troop of the 6th Cavalry, and Troops D and M of the 10th Cavalry, all under command of Lt.-Col. Neill, 6th Cavalry. Being well armed and well posted, the Indians held their ground until nightfall and then stole away. The troops took up the trail and followed it about ten days, at the end of which time it was covered up by rains. Troops from other posts were ordered to assist in the pursuit and eventually most of the fugitives gave themselves up. In the fight at the Agency the Indians lost eight killed. The 10th Cavalry lost 12 men wounded, one mortally.
When moved for the second time from Fort Sill the regimental headquarters were transferred to Fort Concho, Texas, where they were established on the 17th of April, 1875. The 1st of May found the troops of the regiment located in Texas and Indian Territory as follows: Troops A, F, G, I and L, at Fort Concho; B and E at Fort Griffin; C and K at Fort McKavett; H at Fort Davis; D and M in the field at Buffalo Springs, I. T. During the month of May, troops D and M moved from the Indian Territory, the former to Fort Concho, the latter to Fort Stockton.
In the course of the next two years the disposition of the troops was modified so as to scatter the regiment over the length and breadth of western Texas. Its headquarters, however, remained at Fort Concho for more than seven years. During this period the regiment continued with some variation its past experience in Indian fighting. Its campaigning consisted mainly in pursuing small bands of marauding Apaches. This carried the troops, now across the border into the unknown territory of the "Gringo"-hating Mexicans, now over the scorching wastes of the Staked Plains, now up and down the rocky fastnesses of the Guadalupe Mountains and the bad lands bordering the upper Rio Grande.
The following are a few instances of this kind of service:
In July, 1876, Troops B, E and K crossed into Mexico as part of a column commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Shafter, 24th Infantry. A detachment of this command, made up of twenty picked men of Troop B under Lieutenant Evans, and twenty Seminole scouts, all under command of Lieutenant Bullis, 24th Infantry, made a march of 110 miles in twenty-five hours and thereby succeeded in surprising a camp of twenty-three lodges of hostile Lipans and Kickapoos near Saragossa, Mexico. They killed ten Indians and captured four, and also captured about 200 horses. They then made a bonfire of the camp material and with their prisoners and captured stock rejoined the main column as fast as their jaded horses would carry them.
On the 10th of July, 1877, Troop A left Fort Concho under command of Captain Nolan for a scout on the Staked Plains. The command got lost, and, as a consequence, Captain Nolan, Lieutenant Cooper, Sergeant Jackson and about ten privates were ninety-six hours without water. Four of the men died. Other parties were from twenty-four to thirty-eight hours without water. The command was found and brought back to Fort Concho by a party sent out from there to search for it.
In 1880 the regiment was engaged in what is known as the Victoria campaign, a series of operations direct against the Mescalero Apache chief Victoria, who, with his Whole band, had escaped from the military authorities in New Mexico. On the 30th of July Colonel Grierson, with a party of only six men, was attacked by this band between Quitman and Eagle Springs. Lieutenant Finley with fifteen men of Troop G came up, engaged the Indians, and held them in check until the arrival of Captains Viele and Nolan with Troops C and A. In an engagement, which lasted four hours, seven Indians were killed and a number wounded. On the side of the troops one soldier was killed and Lileutenant Colladay wounded. The hostiles were driven off and pursued to the Rio Grande. In the course of the pursuit a running fight of at least fifteen miles was maintained near the Alamo by a detachment under Corporal Asa Weaver of Troop H. Private Tockes, Troop C, was killed. His horse went to bucking and then ran directly into the Indians. When last seen alive this devoted trooper had dropped his reins, drawn his carbine, and was firing to right and left. His skeleton was found months afterwards. For his gallant conduct in this affair Corporal Weaver was promoted to a sergeant on the ground. The same day Captain Lebo, with Troop K, followed an Indian trail to the top of the Sierra Diabola, captured Victoria's supply camp of twenty-five head of cattle, and a large quantity of beef and other provisions on pack animals.
The decisive blow of the campaign was struck a few days later by Colonel Grierson. Being on the trail of Victoria, heading northward through the Carriso Mountains, Grierson switched off to his right, and, by a forced march of sixty-five miles, swung around the flank of the unsuspecting Apaches and struck them in front, forcing them southward across the frontier. Victoria never went raiding again on American soil. He was subsequently killed by the Mexican troops near Lake Guzman, Mexico.
In July, 1882, regimental headquarters were moved from Fort Concho to Fort Davis, where they remained until March 30, 1885. During this time the regiment saw little active field service.
In the spring of 1885 the regiment moved from the Department of Texas to the Department of Arizona, marching along the Southern Pacific Railroad. When the column took up its march from Fort Davis it comprised eleven troops and the band. At Camp Rice it was joined by Troop I, and from this point to Bowie Station, Arizona, the twelve troops continued together. They had never been together before and never have been since. At Bowie the troops separated to go to their several stations. The headquarters went to Fort Apache, where they arrived on the 20th of May.
The Geronimo campaign had just commenced, and on the 19th of May a battalion formed of Troops D, E, H and K, under Major Van Vliet, was sent out from Fort Grant in search of hostiles. They marched to Fort Bayard, N. M., and through the Mogollon Mountains, but saw nothing of them. The greater part of the regiment was in the field during the whole campaign. Several of the officers, anxious to be where there was most to be done, had themselves detached from their troops to do duty with Indian scouts at the front. Thus, Lieutenant Shipp was with Captain Crawford in Mexico when that officer was killed. Lieutenant Finley accompanied Captain Lawton in his long, hard chase of Geronimo, which led to his surrender. Lieutenant Clarke patrolled the Mexican border The latter especially distinguished himself in an engagement which Troop K, under command of Captain Lebo, had with Geronimo's band in the Pineto Mountains in Mexico. His conduct on this occasion has recently won for him a medal of honor.
After Geronimo had surrendered to Captain Lawton, a remnant of his band under Chief Mangus, who was still defying the Government of the United States, was run down in handsome style by Troop H. under the command of Captain Cooper.
Such instances of distinguished service are the more creditable as the opportunities therefor were extremely rare. To the greater part of the regiment the Geronimo campaign was a dismal succession of inglorious days devoted to the guarding of water-holes, mountain passes, etc.
In 1887 part of the regiment was in the field in. search of "the Kid," a former follower of Geronimo, who had never been caught, and has not been yet. Lt. Carter P. Johnson especially distinguished himself by the skill, energy and perseverance with which he pursued this Indian.
On the 15th of April, 1890, the regiment lost the colonel who had commanded it from its organization by his promotion to a brigadier-general. The vacancy was filled by the promotion of Lieut.-Colonel J. K. Mizner, 8th Cavalry, who is the present chief of the regiment. Regimental headquarters were moved by Colonel Mizner to Fort Grant, where they now (1891) are.
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