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 and Fall of 1869, numerous reports had been received by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Montana of depredations on the settlements supposed to be committed by the Blood and Piegan warriors of the Blackfeet tribe. After investigation by the War Department, it was decided to send an expedition to punish them during the winter, as it would be easier to locate their camps at this time. Only the camps of Mountain Chief, Bear Chief, and Red Horn were to be struck, located on the Marias River near the British line.
After secret preparations, the column left Fort Ellis, Montana, January 6, 1870. It consisted of Companies F, G, H, and L under Major Eugene M. Baker, Second Cavalry, who had succeeded Colonel Brackett in command of the post. Having arrived at Fort Shaw, the expedition was joined by a detachment of mounted infantry and a company of train guard. From here they marched to the Teton River, where the wagons were left in charge of the company of the Thirteenth Infantry. The cavalry moved by night marches to the Big Bend of the Marias in the severest weather ever experienced in that country, the thermometer sometimes registering forty degrees below zero.
Early on the morning of the twenty-third, they reached the Marias Valley and came upon an Indian lodge. From the occupants, they learned the village was about eight miles down the river. Hurrying on, they soon saw the smoke of the village. Company F, having been sent forward as an advance guard, came upon the pony herd, which it proceeded to capture. When the main body of the force arrived, the camp was surrounded. The attack was a complete surprise and the Indians had little chance to prepare a defense. Within an hour there was no more resistance and firing ceased. Lieutenant Doane with Company F was left there to destroy the camp, secure the horses, and collect the dead and prisoners.
The rest of the force moved on down the valley sixteen miles to Mountain Chief’s camp. They found the lodges abandoned, and after destroying them, marched up the valley to the Northwest Fur Company. It was found they had killed one hundred seventy-five Indians, including Red Horn, destroyed forty-four tepees, and captured five hundred and fourteen ponies. At the fur company, the Blood Chiefs were summoned and required to give up stolen horses in their possession. The captives, one hundred in number, were turned over to these Indians. Only one soldier of Company L was killed. The companies returned to Fort Ellis at once, having traveled four hundred fifty miles.
At the time, there was much criticism brought upon Major Baker by the press for killing women and children in the camp. It was also claimed by some that the Indians were friendly to the whites. In a fight where the occupants were in tepees, it was natural that non-combatants would be killed. Generally, women fought as fiercely as men. The attack was made upon the camps specifically noted as unfriendly. There was considerable small-pox among the Indians, and this might account for the complete surprise by the soldiers. The large number of casualties could be accounted for by the fact that the attacking force was superior in numbers.