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.
After the engagement at Camas Meadows, Chief Joseph moved east through Yellowstone Park, then north along Clark’s Fork to its junction with the Yellowstone River, then on to the Mussel Shell. On account of the shortage of supplies, General Howard decided to remain at the Camas Meadows camp. On August 25, Company L and two batteries of the Fourth Artillery were ordered to Fort Ellis to obtain provisions, and then to move to the Crow Agency, there to await Howard’s force, and to scout in the meantime for the Indians. General Howard took up the pursuit again on August 27, and followed the hostiles along Clark’s Fork to a junction with Colonel Sturgis, September 11. Realizing that his own command might not be able to prevent the escape of the Indians, he sent a message to Colonel Miles at the mouth of the Tongue River (Fort Keogh) to try to intercept them, meantime sending Colonel Sturgis in fast pursuit with the best horses and men. The latter officer overtook the Indians at the Yellowstone on August 13, and again the next day on the Mussel Shell, driving them north.
After receiving the message from General Howard on September 17, Colonel Miles immediately made preparation to enter the pursuit with all available force at his command. He started on September 18 with Companies F, G, and H, Second Cavalry, three companies of the Seventh Cavalry, four mounted companies of the Fifth Infantry, a detachment of infantry with a Napoleon gun, and a party of Cheyenne scouts. They moved northwest by forced marches, arriving at the Missouri River near the mouth of the Mussel Shell September 23. Learning that the Nez Perces had crossed the Missouri at Cow Island September 23, and there destroyed the depot of supplies, Colonel Miles continued the march toward the Bear Paw Mountains. He left his train to follow on September 27, and reached the northern end of Bear Paw Mountains September 29.
The scouts having discovered the trail and followed it, the Indian camp was reached the following morning on Eagle Creek, after a rapid march of 267 miles from Fort Keogh. The hostile camp was located in a curve of a cut-off of the valley, making it difficult to determine its exact size at first. The gait was increased to a gallop and orders were given for the disposition of troops as they moved along.
The Second Cavalry battalion, being in front, was ordered to sweep around to the rear and take the hostile camp in reverse and drive off the pony herd. The battalion of the Seventh Cavalry was ordered to charge the camp from the front with the battalion of the Fifth Infantry echeloned to the left and rear.
The Indians rushed from the camp to the nearby ravines and poured a deadly fire into the Seventh Cavalry, which fell back but soon charged again, this time successfully, against that part of the camp. At the same time the battalion of infantry on Indian ponies rushed upon the left flank, dismounted, and holding the lariats of the ponies, began an attack with their long rifles. The losses on both sides were heavy at this stage of the fighting, but the troops had gradually closed the circle around the Indians, forcing them into a narrow ravine.
Meanwhile, the Second Cavalry battalion was operating in the rear to prevent the escape of the hostiles and to secure the pony herd. F Company, under Captain Tyler, captured 300 of the ponies, and Company H, under Lieutenant Jerome, another large herd. Lieutenant McClernand, with Company G, was ordered to pursue a herd about three miles away, which turned out to be defended by a party under White Bird, who was attempting to escape. After some sharp fighting over these horses, Lieutenant McClernand brought them back. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in this fight. All of the captured herd, numbering about 800, were then placed in a secluded valley in the rear of the command.
The battalion of the Seventh Cavalry, now dismounted, and the battalion of the Fifth Infantry, preceded by the Cheyenne and Sioux scouts, charged upon the village. In this fighting two officers and twenty-two soldiers were killed. After this and other attacks, Colonel Miles was convinced that any assault would be attended by severe loss. He decided to take steps to prevent the escape of the Indians and to meet reenforcements expected from Sitting Bull, who he believed would come to the rescue of Chief Joseph. He sent messages to General Terry, Colonel Sturgis, and General Howard telling them he intended to hold the Indians encircled until they surrendered.
On the morning of October 1, Colonel Miles called upon the Nez Perces to surrender. Chief Joseph and several warriors came out under a flag of truce. They seemed willing to surrender and even deposited some of their arms, but finally refused and went back into their camp. At this time Lieutenant Jerome, Second Cavalry, was directed to ascertain what was being done in the village. He ventured too far and was captured and held as hostage until the return of Chief Joseph’s party.
From then until the morning of October 5, there was parleying and desultory firing. Several times the Indians displayed the white flag, but each time refused to give up their arms. Finally on the morning of October 5, after the arrival of General Howard with a small party, they surrendered their arms. The losses among them were thirty killed and forty-six wounded.