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.
About eleven o’clock on the morning of December 21, 1866, the lookout on Sullivant Hills signaled that the wood train had been corralled about one and one-half miles from the post, and was attacked in force. A relief party of forty-nine men of the Eighteenth Infantry, and twenty-seven of C Company, Second Cavalry, temporarily commanded by Lieutenant Grummond, Eighteenth Infantry, was hastily organized. Captain Powell was placed in command of the expedition, but just as it was about to start, Captain Fetterman came up and begged for the command. Colonel Carrington reluctantly acceded to his plea, and gave him orders to relieve the wood train, drive back the Indians, but not to pursue them beyond the Lodge Trail Ridge. The force was joined by Captain Brown and two hunters who volunteered to go, and now consisted of eighty-two men. Instead of leading his men direct to the wood train on the south side of Sullivant Hills, Captain Fetterman moved hastily toward Peno Valley on the north side.
This movement was noticed from the fort, and as it might be a good tactical maneuver by taking the enemy in the rear, no apprehension was felt. The hostile Indian scouts noticed Fetterman’s movement on the north side of the hill, and immediately withdrew from the wood train, which broke corral and made its way to the Piney, seven miles northwest of the fort, where it went into camp. About this time several Indians were noticed along the Piney in front of the fort. A shot from the cannon caused this group to scatter. The main body of the Indians had disappeared to the northwest toward Peno Creek. This placed them, during this movement, on the opposite side of the hill from Fetterman’s force, which doubtless was ignorant of the withdrawal of the Sioux from the attack on the wagon train.
It was now discovered that no doctor had accompanied the relieving party. Acting-Assistant Surgeon Hines, with an escort of four men, was sent to join Fetterman. The doctor returned in a little while with the information that the wood train had gone on, and that when he attempted to cross the Valley of the Peno, it was full of Indians, and that he saw no sign of Fetterman.
Alarm was caused in the fort by heavy firing about twelve o’clock from beyond Lodge Trail Ridge, five miles away. Colonel Carrington instantly dispatched Captain Ten Eyck with about fifty-four men to the relief of Fetterman. This group had gone only a short distance when forty additional men were sent to join them.
The garrison in the fort was now depleted to an alarming extent. Prisoners were released and armed, and quartermaster employees and citizens were also mustered into service. The wood train guard was ordered back to the fort. Altogether, there were now one hundred nineteen men to defend the post, which were not enough to man the walls.
The colonel’s own orderly, who had gone with Captain Eyck, was soon seen galloping furiously toward the fort. He had a message from Captain Eyck stating the valley beyond the ridge was filled with Indians; and that the firing had stopped in the direction of Fetterman. He also asked for a howitzer, which was refused him.
Meanwhile, Captain Ten Eyck and his party marched straight to Lodge Trail Ridge. The firing in the Peno Valley beyond him was becoming less in volume. He finally reached the top of the ridge about 12:45 p.m., hearing at the same time a few straggling shots in the valley, then silence. The relief party could see no soldiers in the area below them, but it was filled with frenzied savages, who shook their weapons at the men on the hill, and challenged them to come down. The Indians soon began to withdraw from the valley, and the relief party descended to the battlefield.
On the low ground opposite the northwestern extremity of Lodge Trail Ridge, where the relief party had noticed previously a large group of Indians, were found the first evidences of the fight. In a space about forty feet square, and enclosed in some large rocks, were found forty-nine bodies, stripped naked, scalped, and so mangled as to be almost unrecognizable. There were few empty cartridges near them, and only six, including Fetterman and Brown, were killed by bullets. This indicated that the party was rushed by the Indians and overcome in hand-to-hand combat. Captain Ten Eyck sent for a wagon and returned these bodies to the fort the same day. The next day Colonel Carrington rescued the remainder of the bodies, which were found further along the small ridge to the west.
The Indians later said this massacre was accomplished by the Minneconjous, under the chief High Back Bone and other tribes, Red Cloud being away on another expedition. They had hoped to decoy most of the garrison from the fort, destroy them, then return and attack the stockade. From information obtained from good sources, these Indians numbered about 2,000 warriors. Their losses probably discouraged them from returning to the attack.