The Everywhere Spirit
has no North, no South, no East, no West. The sun rises over the hills
and sets over the mountains. The compass just points up and down and we
can laugh now at the absurd notion of there being a North and a South.
We are one and undivided.
On April 9th, 1865, four bloody years of Civil War finally ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.
Baldwin City, The State
The newly re-united nation now turned its attention to the West as never before. Hundreds of thousands of settlers rushed west to start new lives -- many of them war veterans, "strong, vigorous men," said General William Tecumseh Sherman, "who had imbibed the somewhat erratic habits of the soldier... and were stimulated... by the danger of an Indian War."
In the winter of 1866, troops of the Eighteenth Infantry -- the regular army unit that had suffered more casualties than any other in the Civil War -- occupied a brand-new post in Dakota Territory called Fort Phil Kearny. But a Lakota leader named Red Cloud and other warriors were determined to drive the soldiers away.
Whose voice was first sounded on this land? The voice of the red people who had but bows and arrows... When the white man comes in my country he leaves a trail of blood behind him... I have two mountains in that country... I want the Great Father to make no roads through them.
Four days before Christmas, the Lakota and their allies attacked a wagon train bringing firewood back to the post. Many inside the fort feared for their lives, but a 33-year-old lieutenant named William J. Fetterman saw his chance. He asked to lead a rescue mission. "Give me 80 good men," he boasted, "and I can ride through the whole Sioux nation."
went out with eighty men and there's a ridge just near. You can see it
there, from the fort. And his his commanding officer, Carrington, gave
him orders not to go beyond that ridge. What happened was that the Indians
under Red Cloud had amassed 2,000 soldiers on the other side of the ridge.
They were all hidden in gullies and ravines, the Sioux, the Arapahoe,
and the Cheyenne. And from these three groups, two men were chosen from
each to be decoys. This is a very dangerous, but a very honorable thing.
So the decoys rode up on the ridge in sight of the fort."
The Indians began taunting Fetterman from horseback, even getting off their ponies and adjusting their bridles despite the army bullets buzzing all around them. When they raced over the ridge, Fetterman hurried in pursuit -- and disappeared.
few shots were heard, followed up by increasing rapidity... a desperate
fight was going on in the valley below the ridge... in the very place
where the command was forbidden to go. Then followed a few quick volleys,
then scattering shots, and then, dead silence. Less than half an hour
had passed, and the silence was dreadful.
A nervous search party found Fetterman and his command late that afternoon. They were all dead.
We packed them... on top of the ammunition boxes in the wagons.... Could not tell Cavalry from the Infantry. All dead bodies stripped naked, crushed skulls, with war clubs, ears, nose and legs had been cut off, scalps torn away and the bodies pierced with bullets and arrows, wrists, feet and ankles leaving each attached by a tendon... We walked on their internals and did not know it in the high grass. Picked them up, that is their internals, did not know the soldier they belonged to, so you see the cavalry man got an infantry man's guts and an infantry man got a cavalry man's guts.
was a bugler whose name was Adolf Metzger, and he was pinned down, and
he expended all of his ammunition, and then he took his bugle and started
fighting with it fiercely. And his body was the only one that was not
defiled there. And indeed, the Indians placed a buffalo cloak over it,
because he fought with such bravery. And they paid him homage for that."
For three years, the federal govenment wavered between a policy of negotiation or war with the Indians of the Plains. But in 1868, the problem was turned over to two of the men whose military strategy had brought the South to its knees.
During the Civil War, Philip Sheridan had so thoroughly stripped the bountiful Shenandoah Valley, he liked to claim that a crow wishing to fly over the valley had to carry its own rations. And William Tecumseh Sherman had cut a swath from Atlanta to the sea, leaving the blackened chimneys of hundreds of homes as testimony to the effectiveness of his methods. Together, they would try to do to the Indians what they had done to the South. And they would start with the Cheyenne on the southern Plains.
The campaign they devised would be waged in the winter, when the Indians were most vulernable. It called for three separate columns to force the Cheyenne back onto their reservation. The soldier meant to do the real fighting was Sheridan's favorite officer, one of the Union's most celebrated generals -- George Armstrong Custer, who had built his reputation leading daring cavalry charges against the Confederates. Custer leaped at the chance.
23, 1868 -- Reveille at 3 o'clock. Snowed all night and still snowing
very heavily... Daylight found us on the march.... All landmarks were
invisible... Then General Custer, with compass in hand, took the lead
and became our guide.
Custer drove his men relentlessly, until one night his Indian scouts reported they had found a Cheyenne village of some 50 lodges. He ordered his men to prepare for a dawn attack, though he didn't know how many Indians were there or whose village it was.
have always done my best to keep my young men quiet, but some will not
listen, and since the fighting began I have not been able to keep them
all at home. But we want peace, and I would be glad to move all my people
down this way; I could then keep them all quietly near camp.
Some of Black Kettle's young men had slipped away to steal livestock and raid settlers. There were four white captives being held in the village. It was the pony tracks of one of the war parties that had led Custer's scouts to the edge of the camp.
At dawn on November 27th, 1868 -- two days short of the fourth anniversary of the slaughter at Sand Creek -- Custer and more than 600 soldiers charged through Black Kettle's camp.
great grandmother was among about four hundred individuals that followed
Black Kettle and were camped along the Washita, when the soldiers came
in from the four directions to the tune of the military band playing 'Garry
Owen' on such a bitterly cold morning that the instruments of the men
froze to their lips as they went about the slaughter."
was early in the morning when the soldiers began the shooting. There had
been a big storm, and there was snow on the ground. All of us jumped from
our beds, and all of us started running to get away. I was barefooted,
as were almost all of the others.
The killing went on for half an hour. The survivors hid in the tall grass.
great grandmother escaped, again, fortunately, but Black Kettle and his
wife did not. He brought his pony up alongside of her and told her to
get up behind him. She climbed up behind him and as they started to ride
across the Washita, they were killed. But he died fighting for what he
believed in and that was peace."
In the spring, the last Cheyenne holdouts from the relentless winter campaign began to surrender. One band was led by a chief named Rock Forehead. Custer decided to try to talk him into giving up rather than risk an attack. He entered the village with only an interpreter, and was taken to the chief's teepee. There, seated under the sacred arrows, the Cheyennes' most honored and powerful medicine, the Indians passed along a ceremonial pipe for Custer to smoke. He told them if they returned to the reservation, no one would be harmed and peace would be restored.
Eventually, Rock Forehead would agree to give up. But on that day he was not convinced that Custer was trustworthy. And he tapped out the pipe's ashes on the general's boots, to bring Custer bad luck and to drive home a warning.
They told him then that if ever afterward
he should break that peace promise and should fight the Cheyennes, the
Everywhere Spirit surely would cause him to be killed.
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