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 year 1877, all the companies of the Second Cavalry lived in relative quiet from Indian warfare except the battalion stationed at Fort Ellis, Montana. The relentless pursuit of the savages had caused them to break up the concentrations of large forces and to split into bands of a few hundred warriors. Most of them had gone to the agencies, knowing that further resistance was futile. After the surrender of Crazy Horse in April, Sitting Bull was still at large with a small following, and Lame Deer, with a group of Minneconjous, was yet in the hills east of the Big Horn Mountains.
To assist in further pacification of the savages, Companies F, G, H, and L, Second Cavalry, were ordered to report to Colonel Miles at his cantonment (Fort Keogh) on the Tongue River. After a march over wretched roads the companies, under Captain Ball, reached there April 27. Already assembled were two companies of the Fifth Infantry and four of the Twenty-second Infantry, with a company of mounted scouts.
The command marched south along the Tongue River May 1, 1877. After three days a trail of Indians was discovered, said to be that of Lame Deer. The wagons were now abandoned and the supplies carried on pack mules. Leaving the infantry to follow, the four companies of the Second Cavalry pushed on ahead, and marched day and night, with a stop of a few hours occasionally to rest and graze the horses. On the afternoon of May 6, word was passed along the column that the command would rest until 1:00 a.m. and then move forward to attack Lame Deer’s village, near the mouth of Muddy Creek in the Wolf Mountains. In contrast to former campaigns, the column found the grass was green, the leaves were on the trees and there was the scent of wild flowers and the song of birds in the air.
After a wait of several hours in these pleasant surroundings, the command was given to saddle and move on. They first marched at a walk, then at a trot, and before reaching the village at daylight, they were moving at a gallop. Company H, under Lieutenant Jerome, and the mounted infantry and scouts charged straight through the village, then stampeded the pony herd of 500, driving it five miles up the valley and back to the rear of the troops. The other three companies, F, G, and L, charged through following H Company, then wheeled to the right and went into dismounted action against the Indians, who had taken up a position in the hills.
Anxious to secure some of the Indians alive, Colonel Miles told the interpreters to shout at the hostiles that if they would surrender, the troops would spare their lives. Seeing a small group near, Colonel Miles’ party started toward them and called out “Friend”. A short parley started, during which time a white scout decided to cover the Indians with his rifle. Thinking he was going to shoot, they immediately started firing at Colonel Miles and his party. In the melee both Lame Deer and his nephew were killed.
The Indians were driven from the top of the hill and the companies had their horses brought up for the pursuit. The savages soon were scattered over the countryside where the troops could find but few. Meantime, the infantry had arrived near the end of the fight and began the destruction of the village. It was one of the richest encampments the troops had yet found. Tons of buffalo meat, hundreds of robes, saddles, arms, and equipment were piled up and burned. As a result of this aggressive fight the whole band of Indians was broken up and the survivors soon began to surrender at the agencies. The Indians had fourteen killed and many wounded, while the troops had four killed and eight wounded.
During the fight Private Leonard, Company L, became separated from his men and was surrounded by Indians. He held a position behind some rocks and for two hours kept the savages at bay until the infantry arrived to rescue him. For this conduct he received the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the same fight three other men received this medal: First Sergeant Henry Wilkens, Corporal Harry Garland, and Farrier William H. Jones, all of Company L, and Private Samuel D. Philips, Company H.
The work driving the Indians toward the agencies now continued. The four companies of the Second Cavalry returned to the cantonment at the mouth of the Tongue River on May 31, where it outfitted to continue the campaign. Companies F, G, and H, were sent by boat down the Yellowstone River to Glendive on July 2, where they marched to the Little Missouri to try to intercept the fleeing Indians. Company L, under Captain Norwood, was detailed in July as an escort to General Sherman, who was making an inspection.
On July 18 Companies F, G, and H, Second Cavalry, united with three companies of the Fifth Infantry, all under command of Major J. S. Brisbin, Second Cavalry. This column continued the pursuit of the Indians up the Little Missouri, then over to the Powder River into Wyoming, causing them to abandon much of their property, but without being able to bring them to fight. Worn out by hard marching, the three companies of the Second Cavalry returned to the cantonment at the mouth of the Tongue River August 30. The harassed Indians continued southward and surrendered at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Agencies.