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 the summer of 1879, large bodies of foreign Indians from British Columbia, and other groups, most of whom belonged to Sitting Bull’s band, crossed the international boundary and roamed about north of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. From reliable sources information was obtained that they numbered about two thousand well armed warriors. They had become a refuge for small bands after committing depredations and being driven north. Colonel Miles was ordered to assemble a force at Fort Keogh, Montana, and to capture them or drive them across the boundary. This force consisted of Companies A, B, C, E, G, I, and M, Second Cavalry, seven companies of the Fifth Infantry, a detachment of artillery, and some Indian scouts. After a march north to the Missouri River at Fort Peck, the command started up the Milk River July 15, preceded by Lieutenant Clark and his scouts. That same day several French half-breeds were captured, from whom it was learned there was a party of about 400 hostile Sioux not far off.
On July 17, Lieutenant Clark made a scout up Beaver Creek, having with him Company C, Second Cavalry, and a company of the Fifth Infantry, in addition to his Indian allies. After traveling a short distance, they came upon a body of Sioux, whom they pursued for twelve miles. The Indians withdrew to their main body, which was led by Sitting Bull, and now they stiffened the resistance to Lieutenant Clark. Reenforced by other large parties, the hostiles endeavored to surround the soldiers, who entrenched themselves.
Colonel Miles received a message as to what was taking place and hurried to the scene. He deployed three companies of the Second Cavalry as skirmishers in front. Behind these were three more companies of that regiment in column of fours with wide intervals. In the rear of these were the mounted infantry also in column of fours, and the artillery. In this formation the command galloped for twelve miles over the rolling hills. Arriving on the scene of action, this force caused the Indians to make a hasty withdrawal. The troops pursued to the Canadian border and then went into camp. Five scalps were taken by the Indian allies, and a number of other hostiles were wounded. Two soldiers were wounded and three Indian scouts killed. From now until the first part of August scouting parties were sent out to pursue and arrest hostiles and half-breeds. The troops were then returned to their respective posts.
Colonel Innis N. Palmer was retired March 29, 1879, after illness prevented him from continuing longer with the regiment. Coming into the army in 1846, he had spent thirty-three years in all the grades to Major General of volunteers, sixteen of which were in the Second Cavalry. During his distinguished career, he was awarded brevet rank six times for gallant and meritorious service. Colonel John W. Davidson, formerly Lieutenant-Colonel succeeded him.
After Colonel Mile’s successful movement against the hostile Sioux in 1879, it was hoped by Brigadier General Terry, the commander of the Department of the Dakota, that they would remain in the British possessions. But driven by necessity to follow the buffalo south, they soon crossed the boundary. Raids of small parties upon the settlements resulted. In the later part of 1880 a large number of them came to Fort Keogh and surrendered as prisoners of war. During August and September, many of the hostile Sioux collected at the Poplar Creek Indian Agency, where they generally conducted themselves in a peaceful manner, but occasionally raided the agency gardens.
Sergeant Glover, Company B, the hero of the fight the previous year, again took the field with eight men from Companies A, B, and E and ten Indian scouts on February 5, 1880, as a result of a war party of Uncpapa Indians having attacked two citizens in camp on Powder River. The detachment trailed the Indians about 65 miles and overtook them February 7 in a ravine near Pumpkin Creek. They held them there until the arrival of Company F, Fifth Infantry, which had followed the detachment, when the Indians surrendered. One of the hostile Indians was killed, and one from Company B was wounded. As a reward for gallantry and vigor displayed in this engagement, the detachment was excused from all duties for 30 days.
Company C, 1st Lieutenant J. H. Coale, commanding, left Fort Custer, Montana, March 27, 1880, in pursuit of hostile Sioux Indians. On March 24, Company E, under Captain Eli L. Huggins, left Fort Keogh, Montana, on a similar mission. Captain Huggins was very useful in this work, having in early life, while living in Minnesota Territory, learned the Dakota dialect. General Miles thought very highly of him and often sent him forth to bring in bands of hostile Indians. The trail was four days old, and on account of recent storms was almost obliterated. It led through Bad Lands, and across Rosebud and Tongue rivers over a circuitous route toward Powder River. On account of the length of the marches, about 50 miles, and the forage consisting only of grass, several of the horses had to be abandoned, as they had reached the limit of their endurance. During the last thirty-six hours of the pursuit, the command lived on coffee, hard bread, and a little meat from buffalos which had been killed by the fleeing Indians. The two companies left camp on Powder River, Montana, April 1, and joined forces for the attack upon the Indians. Coming upon the enemy at 2:30 p.m., the two companies charged headlong into their midst. The surprise was so great that the Indians were at once separated from their ponies. Forty-six head of horses and five Indians were captured; the remainder occupied a position of natural strength from which they escaped in the darkness of the night. Sergeant Joseph Johnson, Company C, was killed during the fray. Captain Eli L. Huggins and 2nd Lieutenant Lloyd M. Brett were decorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor for dashing bravery during the engagement.
While on detached service as a part of the command of Lieutenant Kislingbury, 11th Infantry, near the mouth of the Mussel Shell River, a detachment from Company M fought hostile Indians November 7, 1880. In consequence of this engagement, Companies B and E, Second Cavalry, and Company H, Fifth Infantry, left Fort Keogh, Montana, November 12. Finding the situation well taken care of by those already on the ground, this relieving detachment returned to Fort Keogh December 13.
Although many efforts had been made to induce Sitting Bull to surrender, the stubborn and wily old savage was still at large since the inception of the Sioux uprisings in 1876. After the fight with Custer, he struck out with a small band of about sixty families and crossed the line into British Columbia. He was subsequently followed by other bands of Sioux.
Brigadier General Terry had made many efforts to cause his surrender but was not successful until 1881. In December of that year Sitting Bull crossed the boundary with the main body of his adherents and established camp on Milk River. He sent a number of his chiefs to Fort Buford to continue negotiations for his surrender. As time passed it became doubtful whether he would fulfill his promises, and it was decided to interpose a force between him and the boundary should he attempt an escape. Companies H and L, Second Cavalry, and four companies of the Eighteenth Infantry left Fort Assiniboine, Montana, January 14, 1881, and proceeded to Milk River to carry out this mission. Upon reaching this place it was found that Sitting Bull had escaped across the boundary with about forty families. The remainder of his band, about sixty families, proceeded to Fort Buford, Montana, where they surrendered. During the winter and spring several other Sioux parties were captured or surrendered with about 187 men, women, and children. All these hostiles were moved by steamer to Fort Yates and subsequently to Fort Randall, where they were held as prisoners of war. Thus ended the great Sioux outbreak of 1876 which had started because the Indians did not want to live on a reservation.
Great credit must be given to the troops of the Second Cavalry for their fortitude against Sitting Bull during this winter. Much of the time during their movements the thermometer registered from 20 to 50 degrees below zero. They endured every hardship cheerfully and prepared with vigor to meet the hostile Indians.