ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
During July 1881, Troop C (the designation now being changed from company to troop), Second Cavalry, completed the erection of a monument on the Little Big Horn Battlefield in memory of the officers and men who fell there in Custer’s fight. The monument was located on the hill six feet from where the remains of General Custer were found. The bodies of officers and men were collected from the battlefield and interred at the base of the monument.
Much trouble was experienced by the troops with Cree and half-breed Indians coming across the international boundary to hunt game and to commit depredations among the settlers. The garrisons were kept on the alert to drive these marauders back across the line. The situation was much improved by the interchange of information between our forces and the Canadian police.
Troops H and L, Second Cavalry, and four companies of the Eighteenth Infantry left Fort Assiniboine, Montana, October 8, 1881, with instructions to remove all foreign Indians, half-breeds, and white intruders south to the boundary line, and especially Cree Indians reported to be on the Milk River and Browning and Woody Island creeks. After some sharp skirmishing the command destroyed three camps of the Indians and half-breeds and compelled them to move north of the boundary.
It was during the year 1881 that Sergeant David L. Brainard, Troop L, sailed as a member of the Greeley expedition to Grant-Land in the polar regions. The party of twenty-five spent three years in that area while rescue expeditions tried to reach them. A relief ship finally found them in 1884, but all had died except seven men, among the survivors being Sergeant Brainard. He later became a commissioned officer in the Second Cavalry and rose to the rank of brigadier general during his long service.
The duty of recovering stolen stock often fell to the lot of the regiment during this period of small skirmishes and comparative quiet. A detachment from Troops A, B, and K, under Lieutenant Brett, left Fort Maginnis, Montana, January 28, 1882, for the purpose of recovering stolen horses belonging to settlers of Big Spring Creek. The detachment followed the trail of the Indians along the Snowy Mountains to Judith Gap. From here it led to the forks of the Mussel Shell River, and thence to the camp of Chief Ten Dogs of the Flat Head and Bannock Indians, which was located on the hills near Martinsdale. The animals were soon rounded up and returned to their owners.
Troop L again found itself in conflict with the half-breeds and foreign Indians in July, 1882. On the 9th of this month it pursued a party of these people who had crossed the boundary into the United States. After locating them, the troop captured nine ponies and twenty rifles and drove the party across the international line.
A detachment of Troop H, under Captain M. E. O’Brien, went in pursuit of Canadian Crees on April 19, 1883. After a light skirmish on Beaver Creek, sixty-nine Indians and their property were rounded up and taken to Fort Assiniboine, and later escorted to Canada.
The last engagement of the Indian wars in which the Second Cavalry took part occurred April 19, 1883, at Wild Horse Lake, Montana. Captain Norwood, with a detachment of Troop L and six scouts, left Fort Assiniboine in pursuit of Canadian Crees who had stolen horses from settlers on the Teton River. They soon came upon a small party of Crees and captured and disarmed them. The remainder of the troop under Lieutenant Fuller had joined the detachment in the meantime. Continuing the pursuit, a war party of Crees with a loose pony herd was encountered at the east end of Wild Horse Lake. The Indians fired upon the scouts as soon as they came within rifle range. The troop soon arrived and attacked at once, scattering them and stampeding the herd. Two Indians, one a chief, and two horses were killed, while there were no casualties in the troop. This engagement took place immediately following a strenuous march of 110 miles in forty-eight hours.
At the end of the year 1883 the regiment was distributed at posts as follows:
Regimental Headquarters, Band, and Troops F, G, H, I, L, Fort Custer, Mont.
Troops A, B, K, Fort Maginnis, Mont.
Troops C, M, Fort Assiniboine, Mont.
Troop D, Fort Ellis, Mont.
Troop E, Fort Keogh, Mont.
During the stay of the regiment in the Department of Dakota, it had served to quell Indian outbreaks, to protect the settlers in the new country, to prevent foreign Indians from crossing the boundary, and to act as guards to the builders of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Although never called upon to engage in battle to protect the railroad builders, the presence of detachments of the regiment along the line was enough to prevent trouble. By 1883 the railroad was completed and this important duty was no longer required of the regiment. The West was growing up. There was no longer the grave necessity to scout in all directions to quell the Indians. They were settling down quietly on the reservations. Without realizing it, the Second Cavalry had witnessed and taken an important part in the abolition of the last frontier of the nation. Many laurels had been won and there were no defeats.