FIGHT AT PRYOR'S FORK

From:
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.

IWA column consisting of Companies F, G, H, and L, and four companies of the Seventh Infantry, all under Major Eugene M. Baker, Second Cavalry, was ordered into the field July, 1872, as an escort to surveyors of the Northern Pacific Railroad along the Yellowstone River. On August 13 camp was pitched on that stream near Pryor’s Fork. Before daylight the next morning the camp was attacked by eight hundred Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne Indians, apparently in an attempt to drive off the stock. Because of the vigilance of the pickets, the savages were discovered before the attack and the alarm was given. On account of the darkness there was much confusion, making it difficult to distinguish friend from foe. The fight lasted about three hours, during which time the Indians were driven to cover first in the surrounding bluffs, and later down the valley. The casualties on the side of the troops were one killed and six wounded, while the savages had at least two killed and ten wounded. No doubt the small loss on both sides here was on account of darkness.

A detachment of forty men of Company B, under Lieutenant Randolph Norwood, left Camp Stambaugh, September 10, 1872, in pursuit of Indians who had been committing depredations in that vicinity. After traveling about five miles, they came in sight of the savages and gave chase. Then followed a lively pursuit of fifty miles before the detachment came within rifle range. In the running fight none of the soldiers were injured, but at least one Indian was wounded. The pace of the troop was so fast that one horse died of exhaustion and one had to be abandoned.

After three years of service at Omaha Barracks, Nebraska, Regimental Headquarters was moved on October 10, 1872, to Fort Sanders, Wyoming, where it remained for the next five years.

In the summer of 1873, Company B was one of the most active troops in the regiment. During this time it was generally on scouting duty, or actually in pursuit of Indians. Depredations were being committed in many localities by the Sioux, Arapahoes, and Cheyennes. On July 24, a report came that a party of Indians had descended upon the settlements on the Popo Agie River. The company left at once for the scene of the attack. Upon reaching there they found two women dead and a number of stock stolen. The company followed the Indians so closely that part of the stock was recovered, but on account of a heavy hail storm the trail became obliterated and the savages escaped. In September the company moved into the Popo Agie River country in order to assist in the construction of Camp Brown, later called Fort Washakie, Wyoming, after the friendly chief of the Snakes or Shoshones. These people were enemies of the Sioux and it was easy to persuade Chief Washakie to keep warriors scattered through the hostile country in order to inform the troops of raiding parties, but more especially to locate hostile villages. A detachment of twenty Snake scouts was organized and attached to Company B.

While in charge of a lumber train returning to Fort Laramie from the vicinity of Laramie Peak, Wyoming, Lieutenant L. H. Robinson, Fourteenth Infantry, and Corporal Coleman, Company K, Second Cavalry, were murdered by Indians on February 9, 1874. This incident was the exciting cause of the commencement of troubles at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Agencies located over a hundred miles northeast of Fort Laramie. At the request of the Interior Department, an expedition was organized at once to go to the relief of the Indian Agents, who were practically prisoners. The expedition consisted of Companies A, B, E, I, K, and M, Second Cavalry, two of the Third Cavalry, all under Major Eugene M. Baker, and eight companies of infantry. The command moved out under Colonel J. E. Smith, Infantry, on March 1, and made the march to the agencies in the severest kind of weather. Upon arrival of the troops the Indian Agents announced that the trouble had been settled amicably. That matters had been settled at all was due to the presence of the fine body of troops to cow the Indians, who respect only force. Upon the arrival of the troops the hostile bands fled northwest toward the Powder River and Big Horn Valley, stealing stock and scalping settlers along the way. The acts of these bands fired the blood of the northern Cheyennes and Arapahoes, who were affiliated with the Sioux. These two tribes then began a series of raids upon the friendly Shoshones or Snakes near Camp Brown (Fort Washakie), and also upon the settlers in the valley of the Big and Little Popo Agie Rivers.

Word came to Fort Washakie in the latter part of June that the Shoshone scouts had located a hostile village belonging to the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, near the Big Water branch of the Wind River, Wyoming. An expedition under Captain Alfred E. Bates was organized at once, consisting of Company B, sixty-three men, twenty Shoshone or Snake scouts, under Lieutenant R. H. Young, Fourth Infantry, and one hundred sixty-seven Shoshone Indians, under the friendly Washakie, their chief. Leaving camp at 8:00 p.m., July 1, 1874, the command marched only at night, remaining concealed in the daytime in woods and ravines, and sending out scouts to watch for hostiles. At daybreak July 4 they were in the immediate vicinity of the village, but its exact location was not yet known. Because of the noisy and unruly manner of the friendly Snakes under Washakie at this time, Captain Bates began to doubt if he would be able to surprise the Arapahoes.

Finally locating the village in a valley about twelve hundred yards wide, Captain Bates rode forward to reconnoiter. He saw from the head of the ravine an Indian village of one hundred twelve lodges down the valley. On one side was a sandstone bluff three hundred fifty feet high which he saw at once should be occupied. But the friendly Indians were making so much noise he decided to charge in order to get surprise. He told the Shoshones to follow Company B and then to occupy the heights on the left. The company moved forward and went into dismounted action about five hundred yards from the village. A gully ran through the center of the Arapaho village, in which many warriors concealed themselves and opened a sharp fire. The troop enfiladed the ditch and within a half hour the village was cleared. Meantime, most of the friendly Indians had gone off to capture part of the pony herd, only a part of them remaining to fight under Chief Washakie and Lieutenant Young. After having cleared the village, Captain Bates turned to the heights, only to find them in possession of the hostiles. He decided not to continue the fight by capturing the bluffs, as his loss would be so great as to compromise the possibilities of being able to extricate himself from the situation. The pack horse carrying extra ammunition had been lost and the men had almost expended the supply which they carried.

Captain Bates withdrew his command at once and started back. Lieutenant Robinson with ten men formed the rear guard. The Indians followed closely upon the rear of the column all the rest of the day. By marching by bounds from one vantage point to the next, the rear guard kept the enemy from molesting the main body. After marching all that day and night, the column arrived at Camp Brown the following morning.

There were known to be twenty-six Indians killed and twenty wounded. The troops had four killed and six wounded, among the latter being Lieutenant Young. The ambulance met the column several miles from the post in order to care for the wounded.

One Reply to “FIGHT AT PRYOR'S FORK”

  1. Its great to see this site dedicated to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. I thought I would add that myself and Harold Hagen completed a 430 page report on Major Eugene M. Baker’s battle with the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Northern Arapaho on the Yellowstone, August 14, 1872. If you have the interest I would love to share information regarding the fight with your group. If there is interest Harold and I would love to provide your organization with a comprehensive tour of the battle site.

    Sincerely,

    Dave Eckroth

    Like

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