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.
Another expedition was organized by General Crook at Fort Fetterman during the month of November for the purpose of carrying on a winter campaign. Included in this force were Company K, Second Cavalry, under Captain Egan, two companies of the Third Cavalry, six of the Fourth, and two of the Fifth, all under the command of Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, Fourth Cavalry. Also included in the force were four batteries of the Fourth Artillery, serving as foot troops, six companies of the Ninth Infantry, two companies of the Fourteenth Infantry, and three from the Twenty-third Infantry. The supplies were carried on 400 pack mules, 168 wagons, and seven ambulances. A new group of scouts was included in the force, the Pawnees under Major Frank North and Like North. There were also Sioux, Cheyenne, Bannock, and Shoshone scouts, making an imposing force of about six hundred altogether. Because of the fine appearance of the organization, Company K, Second Cavalry, was chosen for courier and provost duty at headquarters.
The column marched on old Fort Reno November 14, 1876, where a supply camp had been established and the old post partially rebuilt. The command moved out November 19 for the Rosebud River, where the village of Crazy Horse was reported to be located. It was decided to leave the wagons at the camp which was established November 22 on Crazy Woman’s Fork of Powder River, and push on with the pack trains. But early the next morning a report was received that there was a large Cheyenne village belonging to Chief Dull Knife located near the head of the stream on which the force was then camped.
Colonel Mackenzie was ordered to march on the Cheyenne village at once, taking with him the cavalry and scouts, altogether about 1,200 men. The dismounted troops were to follow rapidly, under the leadership of General Crook. By rapid night marches over frozen ground in very cold weather, the scouts with the cavalry located the Cheyenne village November 24, and reported that fact to Colonel Mackenzie. By the next morning they had come within striking distance of the village without their presence being known.
The initial attack was led by the scouts, with the Shoshones and Bannocks on the left, the Sioux, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, under Lieutenant Clark, Second Cavalry, a brave and brilliant soldier, in the center, and the Pawnees, under Major Frank North, the scout, on the right. The troops were ordered to charge from the opposite side, and thus the escape of the Indians would be cut off. It was a complete surprise to the Cheyennes, and they came tumbling out of their lodges carrying rifles and ammunition, and hurried their women and children up the ravines to the bluffs. The hostiles were soon pushing toward their herds and trying to get between the troops and the village. When the mist lifted enough for Colonel Mackenzie to see this movement, he sent a company of the Fourth Cavalry to prevent it. This fight was a hot one and Lieutenant McKinney, the company commander, was killed. They were soon reenforced by a company from the Fifth Cavalry and another from the Fourth. The struggle had become so intense here that there was much hand-to-hand fighting. Seeing these troops engaged so fiercely, Lieutenant Schuyler took his Shoshone scouts among the rocks above the Cheyennes and soon drove them away.
This was the turning point in the fight, as the Cheyennes retreated to the mountainside, leaving the troops in the village. They immediately began to destroy it, heaping together lodge poles, robes, dried meat, clothing and weapons, and setting them afire. A great deal of the equipment of the Seventh Cavalry lost at Little Big Horn was found at this camp. Most of the Indian ponies were captured in the charge that morning, but during the afternoon Captain North with one scout succeeded in driving the others into camp after a daring raid under fire from the Cheyennes. An unsuccessful attempt was made to induce the hostiles to surrender, as it was realized there would be many casualties on both sides if an attempt were made to storm their position.
During the night the Cheyennes withdrew to a location about six miles away but no attempt was made by the troops to follow them. Colonel Mackenzie believed that with forty warriors killed and the loss of their supplies, they would be forced to give up their independent existence. They soon surrendered to the nearest agency and never again took the field against the whites. It was found out later on the night following the attack on the village eleven babies froze to death in the arms of their mothers in the bitter temperature which was 30 degrees below zero.
Carrying seven dead on pack animals and twenty-six wounded on travois, Mackenzie started back on November 27 to rejoin Crook. The two columns combined and started for the park on Crazy Woman’s Fork. From here the column traveled east to the Belle Fourche River in the Black Hills, following Indian trails without success. On account of the shortage of forage and the extreme weather, the force returned to Fort Fetterman, where it was broken up. Company K marched to its winter quarters at Fort Fred Steele, Wyoming, where it arrived January 13, 1877.