DISCOVERY OF THE FETTERMAN MASSACRE

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.

IWBy Sergeant John Guthrie

Early one morning myself and several of the boys were detailed to form a little squad which had been ordered to run the mail from the fort to Fort Reno, seventy-two miles from Fort Phil Kearney. It was during our trip to Fort Reno on the banks of the Powder River, the Indians had attacked the wood train in the valley of the Big Horn Mountains at Pine Ridge in the Sullivant Hills. My comrades and myself arrived at Fort Phil Kearney at day break.

In the morning Colonel Fetterman had started out for the purpose of protecting the wood train. In the middle of the day before the morning arrival of my comrades of the mail detail, the Fetterman command did not return to the fort or to the wood train, for he had taken the old Holiday coach road. We started out to find the Fetterman command, for it was feared that the detachment did not take enough ammunition with them. The party consisted of Lieutenant John C. Jenness of the 27th Infantry, two soldiers and myself, a driver with four mules and a wagon, three boxes of ammunition, the Lieutenant being mounted on an Indian pony, the soldiers dismounted.

A little over a mile from the fort on the Holiday coach road, near Stoney Creek ford, we found the dead bodies of the whole detachment, including Colonel Fetterman, Captain Brown, and Lieutenant Grummond, lying where the Indians had killed them. The scene baffled description as the dead bodies were horribly mutilated. So you see the detachment had been surrounded by overwhelming numbers of Indians, and every man killed. Nothing had life left but a gray horse, Dapple Dave of Company C, 2nd Cavalry, the only horse left on the battlefield, being shot with both bullet and arrow. Lieutenant Jenness of the 27th Infantry returned to the fort with the news and horror of the situation.

It was well understood by the garrison that if the Indians were successful in taking the fort, it meant death for each, and everyone realized the fate that awaited them. The fate of Colonel Fetterman’s command all my comrades of the detail could see, the Indians on the bluff, the silver flashed by the glorious sunshine, flashed in the hair of the skulking Indians carrying away the clothing of the butchered, with arrows sticking in them and a number of wolves and coyotes hanging about to feast on the flesh of the dead men’s bodies.

Some of the dead bodies of our friends at the massacre lay out all night and were not touched or disturbed in any way by the wild animals. The cavalry horses of Co. C, 2nd Cavalry, those ferocious devourers of bodies did not even touch. Another rather peculiar feature in connection with these massacres is that it is thought by some that those wild animals that eat the dead bodies of the Indians are not so apt to disturb the white victims. This is accounted for by the fact that salt generally permeates the whole system of the white race, and at least seems to protect it to some extent even after death, from the practice of wild animals.

Twenty-four hours after the massacre, I was detailed to start to load the rest of the dead. All of the Fetterman boys were huddled together on a small hill under some trees. They had terrible cuts left by the Indians, and we could not tell Cavalry from the Infantry, as all the dead bodies were stripped naked, skulls crushed with war clubs, ears and noses and legs had been cut off, scalps torn away and the bodies pierced with bullets and arrows, leaving each wrist, feet and ankles attached only by a tendon.

We loaded the officers first, Colonel Fetterman of the 27th Infantry, Captain Brown of the 18th Infantry and Bugler Footer of Co. C, 2nd Cavalry, were all huddled together near the rocks. Footer’s skull was crushed, his body on top of the officers. Colonel Fetterman had a lot of arrows sticking in him and his breast cut open and scalped, Captain Brown’s body was hacked up and a lot of arrows sticking in him (he had a little tuft of hair back of the ears and was nicknamed by the Indians “Bald Head Eagle“) and scalped. Lieutenant Grummond of the 18th Infantry had his head nearly cut off, a lot of fingers off, was scalped, and many arrows and balls in him. Sergeant Baker of Co. C, 2nd Cavalry, had a gunnie sack over his head and was not scalped, but his little finger was cut off for a gold ring. Lee Bontee, the guide, was found in the brush near Little Goose Creek, his body full of arrows which had to be broken off to load him, his rifle and pony gone. Bugler Metzger of Co. C, 2nd Cavalry, was never found. It was thought that Colonel Fetterman sent him to the fort for reinforcements and that he was cut off by the Indians, and it was the last of brave Metzger.

Some had crosses cut on their breasts, faces to the sky, some crosses on the back, face to the ground. We walked on top of their internals and did not know it in the high grass. We picked up their internals, but did not know the soldiers they belonged to; so you see the cavalryman got an infantryman’s guts and an infantryman got a cavalryman’s guts. We hauled them into the fort and made the guard house at the fort a dead house. We cleaned the bodies to be buried and buried them two in a pine box, the officers in a single box.

The burying ground was outside of the stockade of the fort, near a little creek called in olden times Bridges Bear Creek, named now Little Piney Creek. Although this is a melancholy description of the conditions of the massacre, the dead received a respectful military funeral, lamented by all sorrowing friends.

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