Flight of Big Foot’s Band: Lieutenant Colonel Edwin V. Sumner’s Report


I was not aware that Big Foot or his people were considered hostile, and am now at a loss to understand why they were so considered, every act of theirs being within my experience directly to the contrary, and reports made by me were to the effect that the Indians were friendly and quiet.

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Edwin V. Sumner, Jr., circa 1865.

Edwin Vose Sumner, Jr., was fifty-five during the Pine Ridge Campaign of 1890-1891. Perhaps destined to serve in the cavalry, he was born in 1835 at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, where his father had established and was commanding the Army’s school for mounted troops. Sumner began his military service as a volunteer when he enlisted at the outset of the Civil War. During the course of the rebellion, he rose to the regular rank of captain in the 1st U.S. Cavalry, and was serving as a lieutenant colonel of U.S. Volunteers in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles. He received a brevet promotion to major for gallantry in the battle of Todd’s Tavern in 1864. At the end of the war he was awarded a brevet of brigadier general in the volunteers and a brevet of lieutenant colonel in the regular army, both for gallant and meritorious service. After the war he reverted to his regular rank of captain serving with the 1st Cavalry until promoted to major in the 5th Cavalry in 1879. Sumner was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the 8th cavalry in April 1890, the rank and position he held during the Pine Ridge Campaign.[1]

The same month that Sumner joined the 8th Cavalry, Brigadier General Thomas H. Ruger, commanding the Department of Dakota, ordered a camp be established on the Cheyenne River just south of the Indian reservation of the same name. The troops were there expressly to observe a band of Minicounjou Lakota under the chieftainship of Big Foot, also known as Spotted Elk. Captain Argalus G. Hennisee, commanding Troop I, 8th Cavalry, referred to the field site as the Camp on Cheyenne River, S. Dak., or more briefly, Camp Cheyenne. In the first post return, Hennisee wrote:

Camp Cheyenne near Big Foot's village

This inset is cropped from Brigadier General John R. Brooke’s campaign map and depicts Camp Cheyenne–the black flag–across the river from Big Foot’s village.[3]

The troops reported on this return left Fort Meade, S.D., Apr. 6, ’90 equipped for field service… April 2, 1890, arrived at this camp on the north bank of the Cheyenne River, S.D., 8 miles below the junction with the Belle Fourche, April 10, 1890. Distance from Fort Meade 77 miles. Distance from Rapid City, S.D., the nearest telegraph office, about 68 miles. Distance from Smithville, Meade Co., S. Dak., nearest post office, 25 miles by road, 23 miles by trail.[2]

Captain Hennisee went on to describe the Indians that he was ordered to observe, and indicated that they were not hostile.

The camp is about 1 mile from the village of “Big Foot” or Spotted Elk, the Chief man of the Cheyenne River Indians in the Cheyenne River Valley now living off the reservation. They are living in four villages along the river from three miles below junction to about three miles east of the S.W. corner of the near reservation, on the south side of the river. Number of Indians, including children, about 396–are living in log houses where they have lived for years, but, off the near reservation. They are peaceably disposed and have committed no depredations on the settlers of Meade County.[4]

Relations between the soldiers at Camp Cheyenne and the Indians they were ordered to observe appeared to be amicable. At the end of the summer, photographer John C. H. Grabill captured a number of pictures of the soldiers of the camp and members of Big Foot’s band.

Grabill_-_At_the_Dance-2

(Click to enlarge) “At the Dance. Part of the 8th U.S. Cavalry and 3rd Infantry at the Great Indian Grass Dance on Reservation. Photo and copyright by Grabill, ’90.” According to Jensen, et al., Eyewitness at Wounded Knee, 14, John C. H. Grabill took this photograph of Big Foot’s band in August 1890. Captain Argalus G. Hennisee of Troop I, 8th Cavalry, established Camp Cheyenne in April 1890 to observe Big Foot and his band of Miniconjou.[5]

By early fall 1890 Perian P. Plamer, the Indian agent for the Cheyenne River Reservation, had formed a different opinion of Big Foot and his band of Miniconjou. Writing on October 10, Palmer anxiously described the situation as he saw it:

A number of Indians living along the Cheyenne River and known as Bigfoot’s Band are becoming very much excited about the coming of a messiah. My police have been unable to prevent them from holding what they call ghost dances. These Indians are becoming very hostile to the police. Some of the police have resigned. Information has been received here that the same excitement exists at other agencies.
Nearly all of these Indians are in possession of Winchester rifles, and the police say they are afraid of them, being armed only with revolvers.[6]

During this same month, Captain Hennisee blandly reported that his troops, “performed the usual camp and escort duties,” with no indication that there was concern for Big Foot’s band. By the end of November Agent Palmer’s reports indicated a crisis was at hand

The Indians are dancing continually…. Big Foot, ordered all the Indians belonging to the ghost dance to procure all the guns and cartridges possible to obtain and to stay together in one camp. There is no longer any doubt that the Indians are all well supplied with the best make of guns and cartridges, and in addition to rifles a large majority of them have revolvers. There is positive proof that some of the traders have been supplying the Indians with guns. The friendly Indians say that the dancers want to fight and will fight soon, but will not let them know anything.[7]

Captain Hennisee moved Camp Cheyenne about eight miles on November 24, and five days later Lieutenant Colonel Sumner was ordered to take command of elements of the 3rd Infantry and 8th Cavalry that were stationed at the camp. Sumner became a key individual during the campaign when he was ordered in the latter part of December to arrest and disarm Big Foot and his band. The cavalry officer drew the ire of the commander of the campaign, Major General Nelson A. Miles, when Big Foot’s band slipped away at night and headed south toward the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Sumner was directed to furnish a report to his department commander, Brigadier General Ruger, following the campaign at the end of January 1891. His report is critical in detailing the actions of the army elements ordered to observe and later arrest Big Foot’s band, and the actions of the group of Lakota when they fled south. Colonel Sumner’s lengthy report is provided here in its entirety. I have embedded the many enclosures he provided at the points in his report where he refers to each in an attempt to make the report more readable. I have excluded the lengthy sworn statements provided by Mr. John Dunn and Interpreter Felix Benoit and will present them in a separate post.

As with my posts in Hunting for Big Foot, hover the mouse over the names displayed in Red to display the full identity of the individual mentioned.  Bold Red will also indicate location of the individual.  Blue underlined texts are hyperlinks to other pages or cites. Also provided is the following map with inset depicting the location of Big Foot’s village and Camp Cheyenne with the location of key individuals mentioned throughout the report. Clicking on the map will open it in a new tab with an enlarged view that can be zoomed in for greater detail. Having this inset open and available in a separate tab is a useful reference while reading the report.

22 Dec 1890

(Click to enlarge) “Map of the Pine Ridge & Rosebud Indian Reservations and Adjacent Territory,” prepared under direction of Chas. A. Worden, 7th Infantry, Acting Engineer, Department of the Platte, from 1890 authorities, with inset showing disposition of forces on 22 Dec. 1890.[8]

Fort Meade, S. Dak., February 3, 1891.[3]

The Assistant Adjutant-General, Department of Dakota:

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your communication directing me to submit a report of the flight of Big Foot’s band from Cheyenne River, and all circumstances connected therewith. In compliance therewith I respectfully submit the following statement:

On my arrival on Cheyenne River, December 3, reinforcing the command there under Capt. Hennisee, Eighth Cavalry, with D Troop, Eighth Cavalry, I took command of troops in the field. This command, then was C, D, and I Troops, Eighth Cavalry, and F Company, Third Infantry (later C Company, Third Infantry), and two Hotchkiss guns. My instructions were set forth in Post Orders No. 254, dated Fort Meade, S. Dak., November 29, and telegraphic instructions from headquarters Department of Dakota:

Barber to Commander, Fort Meade, S. Dak. (Nov 27): Send Troop D, Eighth Cavalry, Godwin, to join command in the field on Cheyenne River, and direct Col. Sumner to take command of full force. He may move the camp nearer Smithville if he thinks it will be better to enable him to keep the region of the east of between the Cheyenne and White River under observation, keeping at the same time the village of Big Foot under control, and giving assurance of safety to the people in the region about it.
Is probable command of Capt. Wells may be soon spared from its present place of duty, when it is intended to order it to join the command of Col. Sumner and put a stop to the unauthorized going back and forth of parties between the upper and lower Sioux Reservation. Acknowledge receipt. By command Gen. Ruger.

In compliance with these instructions I moved the camp up the Cheyenne River nearer to Smithville, and opened a trail directly east over the hills and established an outpost at Davidson’s ranch, 20 miles east of my camp at head of Deep C[r]eek, and on the trail between Big Foot’s village and Pine Ridge. This trail was not practicable for wagons, but could have been used by cavalry, and the outpost was established to give information of any Indians passing north or south.

My orders specified protection to settlers on Belle Fourche and vicinity, as well as a watch on Big Foot’s camp. A few days after my arrival most of the chiefs and head men called to see me, including Big Foot. They remained two days about my camp, and without exception, seemed not only willing but anxious to obey my orders to remain quietly at home, and particularly wished me to inform my superiors that they were all on the side of the Government in the trouble then going on. This information was furnished December 8th, by letter dated Camp Cheyenne:

Sumner to Miles (Dec 8): I have just held a council with all the principal chiefs in this section of the country, and find that they are peaceably disposed and inclined to obey orders; but from their talk, as well as from reports I have received from officers here and others, I believe they are really hungry, and suffering from want of clothing and covering. I advise that 1,000 rations be sent me at once for issue to them, and authority to purchase a certain amount of fresh beef. [Two days later General Miles made reference to this message in a telegram to the Adjutant General of Army stating, “Colonel Sumner reports quite a large number in his vicinity who are willing to obey his orders. These belong to Big Foot’s following and others located about the southwestern part of Cheyenne River reservation.”]

Also in the letter from the same camp, dated December 12:

Sumner to Brooke (Dec 12): Your dispatch, 11th received. Have sent a troop of cavalry on Territorial Road, east of Smithville, to Mexican Kid’s, at intersection of road from Pine Ridge to Grindstone Buttes. Will catch the Indians if possible, but have not cavalry enough to cover this country as it should be and watch Indians here. When will the two troops of the Eighth Cavalry report to me from Oelrichs, and what do you wish done with any Indians I may capture? Mail for this camp leaves Rapid City Mondays and Fridays 6 a.m., and daily courier from Meade.

Also in letter from same camp, dated December 16:

Sumner to Asst Adj Gen Dept Dakota (Dec 16): On receipt of your dispatch of the 14th, I brought Henisee into Smithville, patrolling the road east only. On 15th we connected with cavalry patrol of Sixth Cavalry from Camp at Box Elder Creek.
Your dispatch of 15th just received. Will withdraw my troops from Smithville to my present camp, patrolling to Smithville, and on all roads east of my camp. I believe Indians on Cheyenne River are under full control. I can get all necessary information through my scouts and others, and will keep you well informed.

Frequent communication, and always friendly, was kept up with all these leaders until about December 15, when Big Foot came to my camp to say good-by, as he and all his men, women, and children were going to Bennett for their annuities, again assuring me that none of the Cheyenne River Indians had any intentions or thoughts of joining the hostiles at Pine Ridge.

Notwithstanding this assurance, however, I was at that time impressed with the idea that Big Foot was making an extraordinary effort to keep his followers quiet, and seemed much relieved at having succeeded in getting them to go to Bennett. With this impression on my mind it appeared to me that he required at that time all the support I could give him, and I never failed, in the presence of his own men and others, to show good feeling and the utmost confidence. About this date came the telegram from department headquarters, dated December 16th [following the killing of Sitting Bull and the subsequent flight of his Hunkpapa followers.]:

Barber to Sumner (Dec 16): It is desirable that Big Foot be arrested, and had it been practicable to send you Wells with his two troops, orders would have been given that you try to get him. In case of arrest, he will be sent to Fort Meade to be securely kept prisoner. By command General Ruger.

Under the circumstances, and owing to the delicate situation of affairs at that moment, as described above, viz, my belief that Big Foot could alone control the young men, and was doing so under my advice and support, I thought it best to allow him to go to Bennett a free man, and so informed division commander by telegraph December 18:

Sumner to Miles (Dec 18): Communication from Colonel Carr just received. Have information that Standing Rock Indians from Sitting Bull’s camp are coming to Cherry Creek to-day with the intention of getting those Indians to join them to go to Pine Ridge. Will try to prevent their leaving Cherry Creek, but have not force enough to cover all the roads in the country. Ordered by department commander to arrest Big Foot; he has started with Big Foot and other Cheyenne River Indians to Agency for annuities. If he should return I will try and get him; if he does not, he can be arrested at Bennett. Have scouts and policemen in camp on Cherry Creek to give me information. Only heard so far what I have already informed you, and am awaiting news from that point, and have one troop of cavalry near Big Foot’s village. Camp on the Cheyenne.

Also telegram to department headquarters same date:

Sumner to Asst Adj Gen Dept Dakota (Dec 18): It is reported to me that Standing Rock Indians will be on Cherry Creek to-day with intention of getting Cheyenne River Indians to go to Pine Ridge. Big Foot and his band left for the agency to draw annuities, and is on the way there now. Will know if he returns and advise you, and will learn all I can of the Standing Rock Indians, and what influence they have. Please acknowledge receipt. Sixth Cavalry has withdrawn from Box Elder to Rapid Creek, on Cheyenne River, last accounts.

Also telegram to division commander at Rapid City, dated December 19:

Sumner to Miles and Ruger (Dec 19): Your dispatch received. Latest reports to me from chief of police at Cherry Creek is that all the Indians on Cheyenne River and Cherry Creek have started for Bennett to get their annuities and they are beyond the influence of Standing Rock Indians. Expect to hear positively every hour and will send detachment down to Cherry Creek to-day. If the statement from the police is correct all Indians named are out of the game and might be held at the agency after they arrive.
My main camp is on Cheyenne River and on the main trail traveled by Cheyenne River Indians to Pine Ridge. Another trail east of here, 20 miles, runs from Cherry Creek to Pine Ridge. Another west of here, same distance, is used by Standing Rock and all northern Indians. I am watching all these as closely as possible and can prevent any considerable force from passing over either them. As regards Sitting Bull Indians, so far only one man and woman have arrived on Cheyenne River; quite a number of them, women and children, are west of me on Cherry Creek. The bucks, whom the troops are pursuing, started up Grand River and may circle to join those on Cherry Creek and start for Pine Ridge on the trail west of me, through the settlement. Every citizen in the country, as it were, on outpost duty; they all know where my camp is, and I fear to move with any considerable force north lest the Sitting Bull bucks should pass me on the west. I am also watching to prevent any force from Pine Ridge coming north on trails east of us. A small force of infantry at mouth of Cherry Creek would be in good position.

I invite special attention to this dispatch as showing that every effort was being made to keep informed, to inform my superiors, and to make the most of my command, and in this connection, see copy of dispatch to Gen. Carr, Sixth Cavalry, dated December 19th:

Sumner to Carr (Dec 19): Your scout with dispatch reached me safely and in good time. I have given him a good rest, and he starts back to-day. Your letter by mail has also been received, and I sincerely hope we may meet before long, but, as you cover it. Gen. Ruger seems to think I ought to know all that is going on or is likely to take place, and still have my troops in camp, which can not be done. I inclose herewith a copy of a dispatch received by me last night at 11 o’clock. It strikes me that orders to me and some other commander have become mixed, either at headquarters or in transmission. Perhaps from your orders you will understand the matter better than I do.
The last heard from the Sitting Bull Indians is that families are near head of Cherry Creek, and the bucks may turn south to join them, and then all take old trails to Pine Ridge, crossing Belle Fourche west of me at Wood’s, Elk Creek at Viewfield, and so on south near your command at Rapid.
I am on the lookout for any move of that kind, and will give you due notice. I have cavalry on Cheyenne River as far down as mouth of Cherry Creek, and scouting party between Cherry Creek and Cheyenne River; a detachment at Quinn’s ranch, about 25 miles west of my camp and courier line between, to that point. Citizens living on Belle Fourche will give me due notice of Indians in that direction.
If occasion requires, I can supply any detachment of yours in this direction with rations and forage at my home camp, or will send out supplies to them.
Good bye and good luck to you if you meet the enemy.
P.S. December 19. (10 o’clock p.m.)—Since writing above your second courier has reached me with your letter of this date. I believe with Gen. Miles that numbers are exaggerated, and I feel confident of capturing the whole outfit if I can find it, but the trouble is there are so many trails throughout the country that it is almost impossible to watch all of them, and the Indians knowing where the troops are, will avoid them and probably travel by night. My cavalry is on the jump all the time and in every direction, as you know from having seen several detachments, and I will do my utmost to carry out orders and wishes of the authorities. I will send a party to Wood’s, on Belle Fourche, this afternoon. I will hold your second courier until to-morrow.

Also letter to Mr.Dunn same date, on Belle Fourche:

Sumner to Dunn (Dec 19): After the killing of Sitting Bull the Indians in his camp left their camp; the bucks, about 100 in number, started up Grand River to westward, and the families came south toward Cherry Creek, and are now there well up on the creek. A force of soldiers is following the bucks, and it is supposed they will scatter and come to their families on Cherry Creek. From there they may attempt to come south, crossing Belle Fourche about Wood’s or some other place. I am sending this small party out to watch the crossings on the Belle Fourche and will be glad if you will give the corporal any information you can. Besides this, I wish you and the other citizens on the Belle Fourche would inform me at once if you hear of any Indians approaching your neighborhood.
If you have time I would like to see you in my camp.

On this day, December 19th, later in the day, intelligence reached me from detachment sent down the river to look after Standing Rock Indians, that the Cheyenne River Indians had stopped on their way to Bennett, and had assembled at Hump’s Camp to meet Sitting Bull Indians. (See dispatch to division and department headquarters, dated December 19th.):

Sumner to Miles and Ruger (Dec 19): It is reported to me just now by scouts that Sitting Bull Indians are coming in to mouth of Cherry Creek, on the Cheyenne, and all the Cheyenne River Indians down as far as Cherry Creek have assembled at Hump’s camp to meet the Sitting Bull Indians, and scouts report that they are defiant. I send one troop of cavalry in advance in that direction and will follow with the other two troops and a company of infantry in an hour. Would like to have infantry from Bennett hurry along.

On receiving this information from the officer in advance, Lieut. Duff, Eighth Cavalry, I marched at once down the river with two troops cavalry and one company of infantry, reinforced to fifty men and two Hotchkiss guns, and was soon in support of the troop, Godwin’s Eighth Cavalry, near Big Foot’s camp. On December 20th reached Narseilles ranch and went into camp, and there received a letter from Big Foot stating that he was my friend and wished to talk. December 21st, made an early start to join Godwin’s command, and to either fight or capture Big Foot if any resistance was offered. While on the march, and 4 miles east of Narseilles, Big Foot came to me, bringing with him two Standing Rock Indians. He expressed a desire to comply with any orders I had to give, and said all his men would do the same. I asked at once how many Indians were in his camp. He replied 100 of his own and 38 Standing Rock Indians. I asked why he had received the latter, knowing them to be off their reservation and refugees. His reply was certainly human, if not a sufficient excuse, and was to the effect that they were brothers and relations; that they had come to him and his people almost naked, were hungry, footsore, and weary; that he had taken them in, had fed them, and no one with any heart could do any less. The Standing Rock Indians with Big Foot, that is, those whom I saw, answered his description perfectly, and were, in fact, so pitiable a sight that I at once dropped all thought of their being hostile or even worthy of capture. Still my instructions were to take them, and I intended doing so. Since the flight of Big Foot and the fight on Wounded Knee, I believe I was to some extent imposed upon in regard to Standing Rock Indians, and I now think there were perhaps some warriors with them who were kept out of sight, but near enough to get food and to act in support should a fight take place.

However, everything went on quietly and I was not aware of it if any other Indians than those in sight were near us. I directed Capt. Hennissee, Eighth Cavalry, to go to the Indian camp with Big Foot, get all the Indians and return to my camp at Narseilles ranch, where I encamped on the night of the 21st. Godwin’s troop was recalled and at 3 p.m. Hennissee marched in with 333 Indians; the increase in numbers as given by Big Foot to me on the road being something of a surprise. I arranged my camp accordingly and was fully prepared for anything that might occur. The Indians went into camp as I directed, turned out their ponies and made themselves comfortable while preparing for the feast I had promised. The night passed quietly and on the morning of the 22d we all made an early start for my home camp, Big Foot at the time seeming willing to go there. On the march some of the young bucks undertook to pass the advance guard, and Lieut. Duff, the officer in charge, drove them back, and in so doing deployed a line faced to the rear. This action seemed to frighten some of the Indians, and the squaws in the wagons whipped up, threw out some of their loads and screamed, and this excitement was soon communicated down the column. I rode at once to the head, found Big Foot, who was driving his wagon, and asked him what this excitement meant. He laughed and in reply said—Nothing the matter, some old women screamed. I told him to have it stopped, and he at once got on his pony, rode about and allayed all confusion, and the march continued to the village.

I will here introduce copies of my dispatches sent to division and department commanders on the 19th, 21st, and 22d December, [The dispatch dated the 19th was presented in the previous block quote. Following are two dispatches dated the 21st and two dated the 22nd]:

Sumner to Miles (Dec 21): Your dispatch received at 12 o’clock last night. Sitting Bull Indians are in Big Foot’s camp, 3 or four miles in front of my advance. Big Foot sent me word last night that he heard I was coming with all the soldiers and that he wanted to talk. I hope to-day to get the surrender of Big Foot and all the Indians, including the Sitting Bull Indians. All the Indians on Cheyenne River and Cherry Creek have gone to Bennett, I understand. I intend moving on Big Foot’s camp immediately, and will let you know the result. If successful, will move back to my supplies in the old camp with the Indians.

—–

Sumner to Miles (Dec 21): On the march to Big Foot’s camp this morning met him and several Standing Rock Indians. They were willing to do anything I wish. I ordered them back to their camp and sent a troop of cavalry with them to pack up their stuff and to come into my camp at Narseilles’s ranch this evening. To-morrow I will take the whole crowd, probably 150, to my home camp, and, unless otherwise ordered, will send them to Fort Meade. One of the stipulations was something to eat, and I have ordered fresh beef and will give them rations. This clears up all Indians on Cheyenne River as far as Cherry Creek, and if any other Standing Rock Indians are out they must be few.

The day after this report General Miles telegraphed the Adjutant General of the Army, “Colonel Sumner reports the capture of Big Foot’s band of Sioux to-day, numbering about one hundred and fifty. He has been one of the most defiant and threatening.” General Ruger similarly reported, “Big Foot, with his following, including some Sitting Bull fugitives… surrendered yesterday to Col. Sumner.” What Sumner did not include in his report was another message that General Ruger included in a December 27 report, in which Ruger quotes Sumner as transmitting two hours after the previous message, “Indians have all surrendered and will bring them in to-morrow.”[10]

Colonel Sumner’s report continues:

Sumner to Miles and Ruger (Dec 22): In accordance with agreement which I telegraphed you yesterday, Big Foot, all the Cheyenne River, and Standing Rock Indians came into my camp at 4 p.m. yesterday; they number 333 Indians, 51 wagons, and a herd of ponies. There are 38 Standing Rock Indians in all, and among the Cheyenne River Indians about 30 young warriors, said to be well armed, although I have seen no arms so far. I am holding on to and feeding the crowd, to prevent, if possible, these young men from going south. I will march in a few moments for my home camp with the whole outfit, and expect to reach there this evening. Rations should be supplied me at once if it is expected that I retain these Indians any length of time, and instructions requested as to final disposition.

—–

Sumner to Miles (Dec 22): Did not succeed in getting the Indians to come into my camp on account of want of shelter for women and children. Did not feel authorized to compel them by force to leave their reservation.
Standing Rock Indians are at Big Foot’s village, with their friends, and Big Foot has agreed to hold them there or bring them here, either. They seem a harmless lot, principally women and children. There is no danger of their going towards the Bad Lands, having very little transportation.

In that of the 19th, I state Indians were reported to me as defiant. That report was false, and I did not find them to be so. In dispatch [dated the 21st], I used the term surrender more in anticipation of what might have taken place.

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Chief Big Foot, or Sitanka, was about 64 years of age and a Miniconjou Lakota from the Cheyenne River Reservation. He was known among his people as a traditionalist and a peacemaker and had earlier in life been known as Spotted Elk, or Oh-Pong-Ge-Le-Skah. He was photographed in 1888 as a member of a Cheyenne River delegation to Washington, D.C., and is pictured above on the right with a peace pipe in his lap.[11]

When the meeting took place there seemed to be no occasion for surrender, and in all later dispatches I relate the fact that the Indians “come in,” and all statements in those dispatches are based on the supposition that I had only to deal with 138 Indians, whereas the number coming in was 333. Still, as will be observed in dispatch [dated the 22d], I hoped to carry out my designs with even that number, but on arrival at the village I saw that Big Foot himself could not control or overcome the desire they all had to go to their homes, and he came frankly to me and said: “I will go with you to your camp, but there will be trouble in trying to force these women and children, cold and hungry as they are, away from their homes.” And further said: “This is their home, where the Government has ordered them to stay, and none of my people have committed a single act requiring their removal by force.” I concluded that one of two things must happen—I must either consent to their going into their village or bring on a fight; and, if the latter, must be the aggressor, and, if the aggressor, what possible reason could I produce for making an attack on peaceable, quiet Indians on their reservation and at their homes, killing perhaps many of them, and offering, without any justification, the lives of many officers and enlisted men. I confess that my ambition was very great, but it was not sufficient to justify me in making an unprovoked attack on those Indians at that time, and even if an attack had been made to enforce my wishes, the result would have only been to have driven the Indians out of the country sooner than they did go. I was prepared to fight at any moment should provocation be afforded, but with my small force I could not have surrounded the Indians, nor could I have prevented their fleeing from me and going to the Bad Lands, or even to the hostile camp, with a reasonable demand for protection, which, in going as they did, they did not have. [The first dispatch dated the 22d] indicates the fear I had of a sudden departure of the young men in a stealthy manner. I considered that Big Foot’s presence and influence with them would be more powerful to prevent that than anything I could do; he was, as it were, working with me to accomplish my ends, and I had every confidence that he would be able to hold his people on the reservation, and also to deliver the Standing Rock Indians to me as he promised to do, and as I still believed he desired to do. It was not practicable at that moment to select the 38 Standing Rock Indians out of the crowd, as no one but the Indians themselves knew who they were. I therefore, for the reasons stated, left Big Foot with his people, and in connection with such action I believe I was acting in accordance with many precedents of early timers of later years, and with those established at Pine Ridge in the present campaign, where, even in the presence of a much larger force proportionately than I had, Indians were frequently allowed to be friendly one day and hostile the next, and then to return to a friendly status. It is fair to presume that those Indians who surrounded and fired upon the Seventh Cavalry December 30 came from the hostile camp and returned to it again. Leaving Big Foot, then, with his people in his village, but taking his promise to see me next day and bring with him the Standing Rock Indians, I returned to my camp, and purposely all the way there, to establish confidence, after the excitement on the march, which might have been continued, or perhaps increased, had I encamped and taken up an offensive position near the village, but which was no doubt allayed by my apparent reliance on the chief, whom I was bound at that time either to support or fight. Up to that time I had no reason to doubt the integrity of the chief; on the other hand, had every reason to believe in the sincerity of his motives. I decided to trust him, and in doing so was wholly unmindful of orders received, and desirous only of accomplishing what I understood to be the wishes of my superiors, especially those of the division commander, believing that his plans were to settle matters, if possible, without bloodshed. I have already stated what, in my opinion, would have occurred if I had taken the other course. While in my camp on the night of the 22d and 23d, I received the [following] dispatch from Gen. Miles:

Miles to Commanding Officer, Fort Meade (Dec 22): The following to be sent to Col. Sumner at once, without delay: A report comes from Minnesela that several hundred Indians near Camp Crook, near the Little Missouri, not far from Cave Hills, at head of North Fork of Grand River. The report comes from citizens, who state that 2 scouts with a command in their vicinity moving south had encountered Indians, and that the 2 scouts were notifying citizens. No report has been received of that number of Indians being absent and it does not agree with our official report; still there may be something in it. I think you had better push on rapidly with your prisoners to Meade, and be careful that they do not escape, and look out for other Indians. When will you be at Meade? I will send you orders through that place.

I had no thought of escape of the Indians as a body, but was only anxious lest a few warriors should run away, and I supposed I had taken the best precautions against that and was therefore obeying orders. The information relative to Indians from the north made me hesitate to leave my camp at all, but I hoped to accomplish matters with Big Foot on the 23d—get him started for Bennett and hurry back to camp, although I marched towards the village with every soldier I could take, and fully intended to enforce my orders for Bennett and make any refusal sufficient provocation to fight, and in that extremity take the chances on the call to Meade. My anxiety at this time to meet all the calls made upon me is apparent in [the following] dispatches to Gen. Miles dated 22d and 23d:

Sumner to Miles (Dec 22): Have received your dispatch of the 22d. Suppose you have received mine of this date stating the Indians would not be in until to-morrow. In view of the importance of your dispatch, shall I wait for them or march at once for Fort Meade? It would be very hazardous to leave this country unprotected just now. I can reach Fort Meade with my command in thirty hours from here, but will await further orders.

—–

Sumner to Miles (Dec 23): If the new complication from the north does not amount to anything, and if Big Foot does not keep his promise and come in to-day with those people, I think I will have temporized with him to keep peace long enough, and would like to go down and capture his village. He has heavy log buildings admirably situated for defense, and I would like a couple of guns sent out from Meade for this purpose and Capt. Rodney to take charge of them. Please answer.

At noon on the 23d December, not hearing anything from Big Foot or from any of my scouts who had been sent to the village, I had ordered the march of my command and was about moving when Mr. Dunn, a citizen living on Belle Fourche and friend of Big Foot’s, appeared at my camp. I obtained Mr. Dunn’s service to go to the village and see what was going on, and instructed him to take my order to Big Foot to go with his people to Bennett, and also to say to Big Foot that I would enforce the order. What Mr. Dunn said or did is a question—his statement and others are hereto attached [to be presented in a later post].

I was at one time inclined to believe that Mr. Dunn had played me false, but he is a man of good reputation, and from his statement and statements of officers who have seen and interviewed him since, I am now sure that I did him an injustice, and I do not believe or claim that Mr. Dunn was in any way responsible for events which afterwards occurred. Mr. Dunn, after seeing Big Foot, met me on the march and informed me that Big Foot and all his people had consented to go to Bennett—that there was a good feeling among them—no desire to fight or in any way to oppose my orders, and that they would move next morning. Big Foot intended to visit my camp that evening. I had no suspicion, nor had anyone else in my command, that anything else would happen. This record shows what confidence I already had in Big Foot, and certainly Mr. Dunn’s report was not calculated to weaken it; besides this I had a still later report from my interpreter, Benoit, who left the village after Dunn, that everything was all right and everybody going to Bennett. About 7 p.m. two scouts came in, one stating that although they were going up Deep Creek, he thought they would turn towards Bennett after reaching the divide, and that they did this to escape the soldiers coming up the Cheyenne River from Bennett. On the possibility that they had gone south I sent the [following] dispatch to Col. Carr, Sixth Cavalry:

Sumner to Carr (Dec. 24.): Big Foot did not come into my camp to-day as promised, and I started for him this afternoon.  His lookouts, of course, let him know that I was on the road. He sent me word by messenger that he would go to Fort Bennett to-morrow with all his people, but when I approached his village I found it vacant, and my scouts have informed me that he has gone up Deep Creek Trail, due south; that he will probably pass Mexican Ed’s and head of Bull Creek near the Bad Lands. If you can move out to-morrow morning (a force) you will doubtless intercept him. They had yesterday 100 fighting men, and about 300 altogether, women and children. They started from here in very light order; no wagons; all had ponies, and will travel very fast. For fear they may return here I will stay here to-night, scout up Deep Creek to-morrow, and if I hear nothing, will march for Smithville and go out Bull Creek towards Bad Lands.
Dispatches from General Miles relative to Indians coming from the north and west of me in considerable numbers prevent my following the trail and getting out of reach.  I hope you will get this in time and you will head them off.

Also dispatch to Gen. Miles and Ruger:

Sumner to Miles and Ruger (Dec 23): Big Foot sent me word that he would go to Bennett with his people to-morrow. I marched down here to his village and found that he had started south in very light order, with ponies and lodge poles; no wagons. From your last dispatch in regard to going to Fort Meade to meet Indians said to be coming from the north, I feared to leave this vicinity in pursuit of Big Foot, but have sent couriers to Gen. Carr, which ought to reach him by daylight in the morning. If Carr pushes a force from his camp promptly to-morrow eastward he will have plenty of time to intercept him. Besides this, Big Foot might elude me, and return and commit depredations on the Belle Fourche. For reasons given I will remain subject to further information from you, and be ready to march in any direction.

On the morning of December 24, I received dispatch from Gen. Miles dated 23d, copy herewith:

Maus to Sumner (Dec 23): Report about hostile Indians near Little Missouri not believed. The attitude of Big Foot has been defiant and hostile, and you are authorized to arrest him or any of his people and to take them to Meade or Bennett. There are some 30 young warriors that run away from Hump’s camp without authority, and if an opportunity is given they will undoubtedly join those in the Bad Lands. The Standing Rock Indians also have no right to be there and they should be arrested. The division commander directs, therefore, that you secure Big Foot and the 20 Cheyenne River Indians, and the Standing Rock Indians, and if necessary round up the whole camp and disarm them, and take them to Fort Meade or Bennett.
Col. Merriam is moving up the Cheyenne River, and if he joins you turn this order over to him, with instructions to use both commands, and for him to take such force as may be needed to take the Indians to Fort Bennett or Fort Meade. On the completion of this duty your command will move down and extend Col. Carr’s line. By command of Gen. Miles.

It will be observed that in this dispatch Big Foot is considered both hostile and defiant by the division commander, and that positive orders were sent me for action against him, but those orders came too late and could not be carried out.

The opinion of the division commander was quite the reverse of my own experience with these Indians and I may therefore be reasonably excused for not anticipating such orders, and with the exception of the dispatch from Gen. Ruger, indicating the desirability of arresting Big Foot, it will be difficult to find in any of my orders or instructions any intimation of hostility on the part of those Indians. On the other hand all anxiety seemed to point to my preventing their becoming hostile. I believe that duty was best performed in the course pursued up to the time they left their reservation, an event I did not look for, could not anticipate, and could not have prevented. Any move on my part to the south of Big Foot’s village would have left the settlements unguarded, the citizens unprotected, who were by orders under my protection, and my supply camp on the river at the disposal of the Indians on their way south by that route instead of the one they took. If Big Foot had been hostile and defiant in attitude I was not aware of it until receiving the orders making him so and authorizing his arrest and the arrest of others. My course would have been very plain if I could have received these orders in time, or could have known the wishes of the division commander. The result, however, would probably have been the same, as any display of hostile intent on my part would have caused the Indians to flee, and I could not have interposed any force to prevent. The fact that even in the opinion of my superiors I did not have sufficient force to do that is, I believe, made apparent in several dispatches from department headquarters stating that I would be reinforced first by Wells’ command, then by Fechét’s command, then by Adams’s First Cavalry and Cheyenne scouts, then by Col. Merriam, Seventh Infantry, none of whom ever reached me in time; also in several of my dispatches are reports that I did not have force enough to guard the trails leading south. I did not ask for more troops or for any reinforcements.

I never for a moment considered that my command was not strong enough to meet any force likely to be brought against it, but that is quite a different matter from surrounding and capturing an enemy, especially of the character of the Indian, who considers a surrender merely a halt in the fight to be fed, but had no idea of being disarmed. In the case of Big Foot’s band now under consideration no surrender was made, no arms were demanded. The march to the vicinity of Big Foot‘s camp, situated down the Cheyenne River 22 miles below his village, was for the purpose of arresting any warriors from the Standing Rock Agency who were supposed to have been concerned in the Sitting Bull fight, and who, it was feared, might go further south, to have a check on Big Foot’s band and other Cheyenne River Indians. As I already stated, the mere appearance of the few Standing Rock Indians in sight, as reported, precluded anything like the use of military force against them. The Big Foot band and other Indians belonging to Cheyenne River were on their reservation and willing to go to their village in compliance with my wishes. This was a complete surrender as far as I was authorized to act; any further demand on my part would have provoked hostilities and would have placed me clearly outside of my orders, and even beyond any excuse for such action. Nor could it be presumed that an attack by my force on Big Foot would have resulted in any other way than that experienced by every commander in our service who has made such an attack. The Modocs were attacked and fled to the lava beds, killing every citizen within reach. The Bannocks were attacked and scattered over the country, killing innocent people and committing depredations. The Nez Percés were attacked by Gen. Howard and led his command and others for thousands of miles, and when finally surrounded and attacked by fresh troops a number succeeded in escaping to Canada. In the ’76 campaign on one occasion the Indians were met in hostile array and the troops were withdrawn, and it is supposed the commanders, having discretion, did a wise thing. In the campaign of this year, at Pine Ridge, it is the common rumor, and generally supposed to be true, that Two Strikes’ band and other bands of Indians were allowed to pass back and forth between the agency and the hostile camp, always armed and alternately friendly and hostile, at their own will. I do not presume to question the management of these affairs or the wisdom of the policy pursued, but in connection with that management and policy I would like to have my action considered. My orders were positive to prevent the escape of the Indians I had in charge; to prevent any Indians from coming from the south to join those on the Cheyenne River; to protect the settlements in my rear and on the Belle Fourche, and to watch for Indians coming from the northwest (that was in my rear), and to be prepared to march rapidly for Fort Meade. In the face of these several duties, all to be performed by my small command, I could only hope to succeed by using a peaceful policy rather than force.

I hoped to hold Big Foot, and that he would be able to control his men and take them to Bennett, and up to 7 p.m. on the night of the 23d I felt reasonably assured that I would not only succeed in that measure but I would also be prepared for any other demands. So that, instead of being in disobedience of orders, as reported by the division commander, I was, I know, doing my utmost to carry out his orders and even to fulfill what I thought were his wishes. The flight of Big Foot’s band, no doubt, interfered with the plans of the campaign; I was prepared to hear that, and further, perhaps, that I had not met with the expectations of the major-general commanding in permitting the Indians to go. I should have regretted even that censure, but to see that I am accused of disobedience of orders is a surprise to me, and, in my opinion, is as unjust as it is unwarranted either by facts, circumstances, or a possibility of intention. My orders from Gen. Miles, after the flight of the Indians for Pine Ridge, were to return to my camp and remain in that vicinity. (See following dispatch dated December 24.):

Miles to Sumner (Dec 24): The reports of Indians up north are false. I can not understand your telegram of 22d, stating that Big Foot’s band and Indians to number 330 had surrendered, and you would march in a few moments with them to your home camp. Col. Merriam had orders to march up till he joins you, unless he had found you had taken Big Foot’s band to Fort Meade. Endeavor to communicate with him at once. You have two Hotchkiss guns and over 200 men, which certainly ought to be enough to handle 100 warriors in any place. Those Standing Rock Indians, the 30 Cheyenne River Indians, and Big Foot and his immediate followers should all be arrested, disarmed, and held until further orders. Big Foot has been defiant both to the troops and to the authorities, and is now harboring outlaws and renegades from other bands. Turn this over to Col. Merriam should he join you.

—–

Miles to Sumner (Dec 24): Your orders were positive, and you have missed your opportunity, but such does not often occur. Endeavor to be more successful next time. Hold your command in that vicinity, but in close communication with Fort Meade, and be prepared to intercept any body of Indians that may escape from the troops south. Communicate with Col. Merriam, and notify him he is directed to join you.

Since the departure of the Indians I have learned through other Indians that Big Foot was forced to go with his people; that there was probably no intention of hostilities, but rather a desire on the part of all to seek the crowd at Pine Ridge Agency, and being there to get better terms than at Bennett. My opinion is that the advance of Col. Merriam up Cheyenne River and the report that the Standing Rock Indians at Bennett had been disarmed caused a sudden change of plan in Big Foot’s village, and that the young men, on account of the situation, were able to overcome all objections to going south. They certainly passed through the country without committing any depredation or harming any one.

They passed near a detachment from my command at Davidson’s ranch on head of Deep Creek; passed within sight of citizens at Pinaugh’s ranch; at Howard’s went through his pasture filled with horses and cattle and it is reported disturbed nothing. They had passed all roads, as I understood it, to the hostile camp, and were met by Maj. Whitside 12 miles from the agency and going in that direction; were willing to surrender to him and did march with him to his camp and remain quietly with him all night. This command having, as was reported, captured Big Foot’s band, was as large, if not greater, than mine, and was within supporting distance of other troops. Still Maj. Whitside asked for reinforcements and they were promptly sent, as he reported he had not considered it safe to make the attempt to disarm them with his command. Reinforcements having arrived, this band of Indians was then in the presence of regimental headquarters, eight troops cavalry, and three or four guns with artillery detachments; a fight occurred, the details of which have been published and have no place here except to show that any attack by my command, although without provocation, would, if successful, have driven the Indians out of the country, but could not have held or disarmed them.

It will be observed from the evidence accompanying this report that on the day on which the major-general commanding was writing his dispatch [dated] December 23, proclaiming Big Foot to be hostile and defiant and ordering his arrest, he (Big Foot) was in reality quietly occupying his village with his people amenable to orders, having given no provocation whatever to my knowledge for attack, and no more deserving punishment than peaceable Indians at any time on their reservation. I was not aware that Big Foot or his people were considered hostile, and am now at a loss to understand why they were so considered, every act of theirs being within my experience directly to the contrary, and reports made by me were to the effect that the Indians were friendly and quiet.

Respectfully submitted.

E. V. Sumner, Lieutenant-Colonel Eighth Cavalry.

Lieutenant Colonel Sumner’s report evidently was sufficient in allaying any concerns that General Miles or General Ruger may have had, as no charges for disobeying orders were filed against the cavalry officer. Edwin V. Sumner was promoted to colonel in 1894 when he succeeded Colonel James W. Forsyth as the commander of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. Sumner served as a brigadier general in the U.S. volunteers during the Spanish-American War when he commanded the Department of the Missouri. He was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army at the end of March 1899 and retired three days later.

sumneredwinvose

Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner, Jr., died on August 23, 1912, at the age of seventy-seven. He was buried next to his wife in the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery at West Point, New York.[12]

Endnotes:

[1] Adjutant General’s Office, Official Army Register for 1891 (Washington: 1891), 75 and 298.
[2] Argalus G. Hennisee, “Post Return of Camp on Cheyenne River, S. Dak., commanded by Captain A. G. Hennisee, 8th Cavalry, for the month of April 1890,” National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Returns from U.S. Military Posts, 1800-1916, Microfilm Serial: M617, Microfilm Roll: 1502, Military Place: Cheyenne River S Dak, Return Period: Apr 1890. Hereafter cited as Hennisee, Camp Cheyenne Post Return.
[3] William F. Kelley, Pine Ridge 1890: An Eye Witness Account of the Events Surrounding the Fighting at Wounded Knee, edited and compiled by Alexander Kelley & Pierre Bovis (San Francisco: Pierre Bovis, 1971), cropped from fold out map attached to back of book. Hereafter cited as Brooke Campaign Map.
[4] Hennisee, Camp Cheyenne Post Return.
[5] John C. H. Grabill, photo., “At the Dance. Part of the 8th U.S. Cavalry and 3rd Infantry at the Great Indian Grass Dance on Reservation. Photo and copyright by Grabill, ’90,” Collection: Grabill Collection, Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.,  Call Number: LOT 3076-2, no. 3564,  (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99613793/), accessed 11 Mar 2017.
[6] United States Congress, “Letter from The Secretary of the Interior, 11 December 1890, page 4, from The Executive Documents of the Senate of the United States for the Second Session of the Fifty-first Congress. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891).
[7] Ibid.
[8] Brook Campaign Map, with inset.
[9] Sumner Jr., Edwin Vose, Exhibit H to Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger’s “Report of Operations Relative to the Sioux Indians in 1890 and 1891,.” in Report of the Secretary of War; being part of the Message and Documents Communicated to the Two Houses of Congress at the beginning of the First Session of the Fifty-Second Congress, vol. 1, by Redfield Proctor (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1892), 223-235.
[10] National Archives Microfilm Publications, “Reports and Correspondence Related to the Army Investigations of the Battle at Wounded Knee and to the Sioux Campaign of 1890–1891.” (Washington: The National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1975),757-763, 604, 605, and 628.
[11] Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS), repos., “Cheyenne River Delegation, 1888,” BAE GN SI 5737, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (http://siris-archives.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?&profile=all&source=~!siarchives&uri=full=3100001~!248682~!0#focus), accessed 11 Mar 2017.
[12] Russ Dodge, photo., “Edwin Vose Sumner, Jr,” FindAGrave (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=4912), uploaded 20 Oct 2000, accessed 11 Mar 2017.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Lieutenant Colonel Edwin V. Sumner Jr. and the Flight of Big Foot’s Band,” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2017, http://wp.me/p3NoJy-1kr) posted 11 Mar 2017, accessed date __________.

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Private Matthew Hamilton, G Troop, 7th Cavalry, A Medal of Honor Recipient Lost to History


I believe that his conduct and the example he set the rest of the men of the Troop, entitle him to the Medal of Honor asked for.
–Capt. Winfield S. Edgerly

On the morning of December 29, 1890, Captain W. S. Edgerly was instructed to position his  Troop G of the 7th Cavalry on the east side of the camp on the far side of the agency road, where they remained mounted. Based on Lieutenant S. A. Cloman’s map depicting locations of the troops at the opening of the battle, it appeared to Major General N. A. Miles and the investigators that if there was any troop endangered by friendly fire when shots first rang out, it was Captain Edgerly’s situated directly opposite that of Captain C. A. Varnum’s Troop B, which was fully engaged at the onset.

sam_3452

(Click to enlarge) Inset of the map that Major General N. A. Miles included with this 1891 annual report.[1]

At the Wounded Knee investigation, Major J. F. Kent and Captain F. D. Baldwin asked Major S. M. Whitside, the first officer called to testify, if he believed Troop G was in danger by their positioning, to which the battalion commander pointed out that no one from the troop was injured. Still, Captain Edgerly’s initial actions indicate that he was concerned for the safety of his troop, as he quickly had them dismount and move the animals into the protection of the ravine just to the south.

Among the soldiers of G troop was Private Matthew H. Hamilton, a twenty-five year old Scottish immigrant. He was two and a half years into his first enlistment, and his bravery that day along the Wounded Knee Creek caught the attention of his commanding officer. Private Hamilton’s actions likely occurred while the soldiers of B and K Troops and the Indians in the council circle engaged in a life and death struggle involving small arms fire and hand-to-hand combat. It may also have occurred right after the surviving member’s of Big Foot’s band managed to break through the two cavalry troops. Some of the Indians took up concealed positions inside their tepees and fired back at the troops. Either way, Captain Edgerly’s troop did come under fire such that some of the horses and a pack mule stampeded. Private Hamilton, apparently without waiting for orders and with no regard for his own safety, immediately took action to secure the pack mule loaded with ammunition and then rounded up the other horses.

edgerly-recommendation-25-mar-1891-hamilton

(Click to enlarge) Captain W. S. Edgerly’s original letter recommending Private M. H. Hamilton for the Medal of Honor.[3]

Writing from Fort Riley in March following the campaign, Captain Edgerly briefly described the private’s actions, “Sir: I have the honor to recommend Private Matthew H. Hamilton of my troop for a Medal of Honor, for conspicuous bravery in rounding up and bringing to the skirmish line, a stampeded pack mule, loaded with carbine ammunition, and several frightened horses.”[2]

Captain Edgerly’s recommendation, like most of the initial 7th Cavalry award submissions, was endorsed by the regimental adjutant, Lieutenant L. S. McCormick, and forwarded to the Department of the Missouri for further endorsement. The Adjutant General’s Office, acting on guidance from Major General J. M. Schofield, returned the request on April 6 to the department commander indicating that “The circumstances of this service are not so specifically stated as to warrant action.”[4]

Twelve days later the G Troop commander wrote the following endorsement to his original recommendation:

endorsement-6-11-apr-1891-hamilton

(Click to enlarge) Captain Edgerly’s subsequent endorsement in which he provided greater detail regarding Private Hamilton’s actions at Wounded Knee.[5]

Fort Riley, Kansas.
April 18, 1891.
Respectfully returned. I thought I stated the circumstances of this service with sufficient clearness in this communication, but will enter more into detail with the assurance that the Major General commanding the Army will agree with me that Private Hamilton deserves the honorable distinction for which he has been recommended. At the time the firing at Wounded Knee commenced, my Troop was mounted and near the Indians. I immediately dismounted it and ordered the horses to be taken to the ravine close by, for cover.
Bullets whistled over our heads, two horses were hit and they were all more or less frightened. The pack mule carrying extra ammunition and several of the horses stampeded and ran away in the direction in which the bullets were flying.
Private Hamilton who had remained mounted, being in charge of the pack mule, immediately dashed after them and, by good horsemanship and nerve, succeeded in bringing the mule to my dismounted line and afterwards in bringing in the stampeded horses.
He did a similar thing the next day [at the Drexel Mission fight along the White Clay Creek], bringing much needed ammunition to the firing line and distributing it with much coolness and bravery. I believe that his conduct and the example he set the rest of the men of the Troop, entitle him to the Medal of Honor asked for.
W. S. Edgerly
Captain 7th Cavalry
Comdg Troop G.[6]

medal-engraving-letter-18-may-1891-hamilton

(Click to enlarge) Adjutant General J. C. Kelton’s instructions directing a Medal of Honor be engraved for Private M. H. Hamilton.[8]

Captain Edgerly’s “assurance” that General Schofield would agree that Hamilton’s actions were deserving of a medal was well founded, as the commander of the Army submitted the recommendation to the Secretary of War on May 12. Acting Secretary L. A. Grant approved the recommendation the following day. Five days later the Adjutant General of the Army directed that a Medal of Honor be engraved.

The Congress to
Private Matthew H. Hamilton,
Troop G, 7th Cavalry,
for bravery at Wounded Knee Creek, S.D.,
Dec. 29, 1890.[7]

The Adjutant General’s Office mailed the engraved medal on May 25, and it arrived at Fort Riley in time for Memorial Day celebrations. Captain Edgerly presented Private Hamilton the Medal of Honor on Sunday, May 31, at celebrations in Junction City, Kansas, in which throngs of onlookers watched a parade that included a battalion of the 7th Cavalry led by the regiment’s commander, Colonel J. W. Forsyth.[9]

Matthew H. Hamilton was born in Stranraer, Scotland. According to enlistment and census records, Hamilton was born about 1865. The 1871 Scotland Census lists a Matthew Hamilton, age 5, living in the Ochtrelure, which was a hamlet of Stranraer in the parish of Inch, Wigtownshire County. Assuming this is the correct Matthew Hamilton, he was listed as the son of William and Christina (nee McDonald) Hamilton, although some genealogists suggest that Matthew was living with William and Christina but was not their son. He is not listed on any other Scotland census with this family. William Hamilton was listed as a farmer, but the family profession held by several of the Hamiltons from Wigontownshire was that of mariner.[10]

013519northamerican1881a1001

(Click to enlarge) Record of Matthew H. Hamilton’s first trip to sea in 1881. He served as a Boy upon the ship North American under the captaincy of Matthew J. Hamilton.

Matthew Hamilton’s name next appeared on an 1881 ship’s log listing him as a cabin boy aboard the North American. The ship’s captain was Matthew J. Hamilton, possibly an uncle, and the vessel traveled from London to Melbourne, Australia, and returned. The captain, Mathew James Hamilton, was a master mariner for thirty years and died in 1885 when the younger Hamilton was about twenty. According to Australian records, Matthew H. Hamilton was working as an able-bodied seaman out of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, in 1883. It is likely that Hamilton made a number of trips between England and Australia before arriving in America, possibly after his mentor, Matthew James Hamilton, died at sea in February 1885.[11]

By 1888 Matthew H. Hamilton was living in New York City where he enlisted in the Army on July 6. He stated that he was a sailor, and his place of birth was incorrectly listed as Hobart, Australia, where he had previously worked. Hamilton had blue eyes, sandy hair, a florid complexion, and stood five feet nine and a half inches tall. He was assigned to Troop E, 7th Cavalry, and was later transferred to Troop G.[12]

By the time Hamilton was recognized in General Order 100 in December 1891, he was serving as a corporal, and later was promoted to sergeant. He completed his first enlistment on July 5, 1893, at Camp J. D. Mann, Texas, named in memory of the 7th Cavalry officer who died of wounds received at White Clay Creek. Hamilton reenlisted for another five years the following day, this time correctly listing his place of birth as Stranraer, Scotland. He completed that five-year enlistment on July 5, 1898, as a sergeant at Fort Apache, Arizona Territory, and signed up for another three years. Again, Hamilton listed his birth place as Stranraer, Scotland. He completed his last enlistment on April 22, 1899, at Pinar del Rio, Cuba, serving as a Quartermaster sergeant with a service characterization of ‘Good.'[13]

The last known record of Matthew H. Hamilton is the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, in which he was listed as living in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, working with the U.S. Army as a pack master, thirty-five years old, born in July 1864 in Scotland, and having arrived in the United States in 1888.[14]

Matthew H. Hamilton was one of 150 foreign-born soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars period. However, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society incorrectly lists his native country as Australia because that is what Hamilton listed on his first of three enlistments. All other records indicate he was born in Scotland. The Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States also lists Hamilton as one of 390 recipients who are lost to history. He is one of three from Wounded Knee, the others being William G. Austin and Marvin C. Hillock. Hamilton’s date and place of death remain unknown, and his final resting place unrecorded. A leading theory is that he died while serving as a pack master in Cuba and is buried on that island.[15]

Endnotes:

[1] Inset to “Map No. 3 Scene of the Fight with Big Foot’s Band December 29, 1890, Showing position of troops when first shot was fired, From sketches made by Lt. S. A. Cloman, Acting Engineer Officer Division of the Missouri,” Nelson A. Miles Papers, Sioux War, 1890-1891, Wounded Knee, Pullman Strike, Commanding General, box 4 of 10, repository at the U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, PA. Photograph of map taken by Samuel L. Russell, copyright Russell Martial Research, 2017.
[2] Adjutant General’s Office, Medal of Honor file for Matthew H. Hamilton, Principal Record Division, file 3466, Record Group: 94, Stack area: 8W3, Row: 7, Compartment 30, Shelf: 2. Research conducted by Vonnie S. Zullo of The Horse Soldier Research Service.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] “Presentation of the Medals,” Junction City Republican, May 1, 1891, 8, cited in Surviving Wounded Knee by David W. Grua, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, 62; “The Sacred Hero,” The Junction City Weekly Union, June 6, 1891, 2.
[10] Ancestry.com, 1871 Scotland Census (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007), Household schedule number: 11, Line: 21; Roll: SSCT1871_189. In an email from Jo Ann Croft, dated 4 May 2015, she writes, “I have just finished a Wigtownshire, Scotland genealogical mail list discussion about Matthew H Hamilton. Although he is listed on the 1871 census record as a son born in Inch, we concluded that this was an error on the part of the person who filled out the form for the census (not an uncommon problem).  While he is definitely linked to that Hamilton family, he is more likely a nephew whose birth was not recorded for some reason.  Scotland began government registration of birth, marriage, & deaths in 1855.  There is no record of a Matthew Hamilton born in the county of Wigtownshire at any time in the 1860s.” Ms. Croft goes on to write, “He is not mentioned on the William Hamilton family stone in Wigtownshire (the custom was to list name, date of death, age and place of death if out of county).”
[11] Agreement and Account of Crew, North American, 13 Aug 1880; Ancestry.com, UK and Ireland, Masters and Mates Certificates, 1850-1927 (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012), Certificate Number: 54.645; Ancestry.com, Scotland, National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936 (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry Operations, Inc., 2015), 296. In her 4 May 2015 email, Jo Ann Croft writes, “I found the record of his first trip to sea in 1881.  He served as a Boy upon the ship North American under the captaincy of Matthew J Hamilton for a round trip London to Melbourne.  This also is not his father, but most likely a great uncle. That Matthew J Hamilton died in Feb 1885 when the ship sank on a return trip from Melbourne. For the 1871 census, this Matthew & his wife were living in Wigtownshire with a young niece who was born in China.  Most likely her father was also a sea captain.  It is possible she and Matthew were siblings and the parents were deceased.”
[12] Ancestry.com, U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007), year: 1885-1890, Name: A-D, image: 494, line: 368. According to the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Hamilton arrived in America in 1888, the same year he enlisted in the Army.
[13] Ibid.; U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914, year: 1893-1897, Name: A-K, image: 393, line: 353; year: 1898, Name: A-K, image: 570, line: 2673.
[14] Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004), Year: 1900; Census Place: Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Military and Naval Forces; Roll: 1838; Enumeration District: 0108; FHL microfilm: 1241838.
[15] “Hamilton, Mathew H.,” Congressional Medal of Honor Society, (http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/1678/hamilton-mathew-h.php) accessed 4 Mar 2017; “Lost to History,” Medal of Honor Society of the United States, (http://www.mohhsus.com/lost-to-history), accessed 4 Mar 2017

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Private Mathew Hamilton, G Troop, 7th Cavalry, A Medal of Honor Recipient Lost to History,” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2017, http://wp.me/p3NoJy-1ds) posted 4 Mar 2017, accessed date __________.

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Investigation of the White Horse Creek Tragedy


I then called to the captain that it was squaws, and he replied “Don’t kill the squaws.” I said – it is too late, I am afraid they are already killed.
–First Sergeant Herman Gunther

Three weeks after Wounded Knee an Indian policeman named Red-Hawk, who had been searching for his sister since the battle, found her remains and those of her children near White Horse Creek. He returned to the Pine Ridge Agency and reported his discovery of the bodies. Major General Nelson A. Miles, perhaps concerned with Captain Edward S. Godfrey’s testimony two weeks earlier that “My men had killed one boy about 16 or 17 years old, a squaw and two children,” gave Captain Frank D. Baldwin instructions to locate the bodies and determine what happened. On January 21, 1891, Baldwin submitted the following report:

Captain Frank D. Baldwin at the Pine Ridge Agency, 13 January 1891.

Captain Frank D. Baldwin at the Pine Ridge Agency, January 13, 1891.

I proceeded this morning at 7 A.M., under escort of a detachment of the 1st Infantry, mounted to White Horse Creek, about eleven miles distant, where I found the bodies of one woman, adult, two girls, eight and seven years old, and a boy of about ten years of age. They were found in the valley of White Horse Creek, in the brush, under a high bluff, where they had evidently been discovered and shot. Each person had been shot once, the character of which was necessarily fatal in each case. The bodies had not been plundered or molested. The shooting was done at so close a range that the person or clothing of each was powder-burned. The location of the bodies was about three miles westward of the scene of the Wounded Knee battle. All of the bodies were properly buried by the troops of my escort. From my knowledge of the facts, I am certain that these people were killed on the day of the Wounded Knee fight, and no doubt by the troop of the 7th Cavalry, under the command of Captain Godfrey.

Goodenough Horse Shoe Mfg. Co. had been supplying the U.S. Army with horseshoes and horseshoe nails since at least 1874.

(Click to enlarge) Goodenough Horse Shoe Mfg. Co. had been supplying the U.S. Army with horseshoes and horseshoe nails since at least 1874.

Tracks of horses shod with the Goodenough shoes were plainly visible and running along the road passing close by where the bodies were found. A full brother of the dead Indian woman was present. He had been on the agency police force for several years. Considering the distressing circumstances attending the death of his sister, his demeanor was remarkably friendly. His only request was that a family of three persons, the only relatives he has living, and who were of Big Foot’s band, may be allowed to remain at this agency. This I recommend be granted. I returned to the agency at 3 P.M. Very respectfully, Your obedient servant, Frank D. Baldwin, Captain, 5th Infantry, A. A. I. G.[1]

Almost a week after Baldwin returned from his ominous burial duty, correspondent George H. Harries of the Washington Evening Star published an article in that paper that heightened eastern outrage over Wounded Knee. Although run on page six, the attention grabbing headlines undoubtedly shocked the readers in the nation’s capital, “A Prairie Tragedy. How a Sioux Squaw and Her Three Little Ones Met Death. Tracing the Murderers. A Sad Scene Near Pine Ridge—The Discovery and Burial of the Victims of a Brutal Assassination—Cowardly Crime by Men Wearing the Blue.”

Pine Ridge, S. D., January 22,.—War, barbaric at the best, is legitimate, but there can be no possible excuse for assassination. Today I witnessed the last scene in the earthly history of four of God’s creatures. They were Indians and they lacked much. Education had done nothing for them and the softening touch of religion had not smoothed their way to eternity, but they had souls, and those who killed them as the assassin kills are murderers of the most villainous description. No one who looked upon that scene can ever forget it, and not a man or woman who is acquainted with the facts but regards the bloody circumstances with anything save horror. An Indian woman, comely in life, with her three children were brutally murdered at about the time of the Wounded Knee fight and within three miles of the battlefield. Yesterday their bodies were discovered by an Indian policeman; today the remains of the unfortunate quartet were placed in the bosom of mother earth. When it became known at division headquarters yesterday that four dead Indians had been found Capt. Baldwin of the fifth infantry and now on staff duty was instructed to proceed to the spot accompanied by a sufficient force for the purpose of identifying and burying the deceased. Sunshine and frost combined to make this morning pleasant enough to make South Dakota a reputation as a winter resort. Ordinarily two or three men would be able to inter four people, but these are still times of war and the revengeful Indian will lose no opportunity to wreak a portion of his vengeance on weaker parties than the one he commands. For that reason company A, first United States infantry, was ordered to perform escort duty and also to furnish a burial party. Lieut. Barry and his men have only recently been mounted on Indian ponies and there is perhaps a little friction because men and cayuses do not yet understand each other, but the command was ready before the hour specified—7 a.m.—and after a slight and unavoidable delay on the part of others who were to go along the column moved out of the settlement and to the eastward. Two ladies—one of them a newspaper correspondent, the other simply morbidly curious—were with the little expedition, the latter daughter of Eve being in a buggy commanded by Dr. Gardner, the former on one of Gen. Miles’ pet horses. Twelve miles from the agency was the spot to which our guides led us, the place where Red Hawk, an Indian policeman, had yesterday found the bodies of his sister and her children. Red Hawk, the scouts, Interpreter Frank White and myself rode ahead of the column and arrived there some minutes in advance, leaving the main trail and our destination over a bridle path that narrowed at times to a dangerously insufficient footing even for a careful horse. Red Hawk went alone to the little patch of brush in which lay those he loved, the remainder of the advance guard considerately halting on the bank above the bloody scene until it might be regarded as proper for them to approach and see for themselves what a cowardly deed had been done. Oh, it was a pitiful sight. Mother and children had never been separated during life and in death they were not divided. Prone and with the right side of her face frozen to the solid earth was the squaw “Walks-carrying-the-red.” Snow almost covered an extended arm and filled the creases in the little clothing she wore. Piled up alongside of her were her little ones, the youngest with nothing to cover its ghastly nakedness but a calf buffalo robe, which is before me as I write. The positions of the children were changed somewhat from those in which they were found, the discoverer putting them together that he might cover them with a blanket. The first body to be examined was that of a girl about nine years of age. In the horrible moment preceding dissolution she had drawn her arms up and placed them across her face—a pretty face, say those who knew her—and as the features molded themselves on the bony arms and froze her visage became frightfully distorted. A black bead necklace was embedded in the flesh of her throat. The victim was killed by being shot through the right lung, the ball entering high in her breast and making its exit at the right of her back, near the waist. Her sister—less than seven years old—was almost naked. She, too, was facing the murderers when they took such deadly aim and, like the other girl, she had tried with her arms to shut out the sight of the unwavering rifle muzzles. The ball entered her right breast, went through the right lung downward and came out near the spine and just above the left kidney. Seventy grains of powder drove 500 grains of lead through the brain of the boy—a sturdily built twelve-year-old. Of all the horrible wounds ever made by bullets none could be more frightfully effective than that which forever extinguished the light of life in this boy. The wound of entrance was on the upper part of the right side of the head; the wound of exit was beneath the right eye, tearing open the cheek and leaving a bloody hole as large as a dollar. There must have been at least a few seconds of agony before death came, for the right arm was thrown up to and across the forehead and the fingers of the left hand stiffened in death while clutching the long, jet-black hair near the powder-burned orifice in his skull. And the mother. Gentle hands loosened the frosty bands which bound her to the soil and fingers which tingled with the hot flow of blood from indignant hearts tenderly removed from her flattened and distorted face the twigs and leaves and dirt which in the death agony had been inlaid in the yielding features. Her strong arms were bare and her feet were drawn up as the natural consequence of a wound which commenced at the right shoulder and ended somewhere in the lower abdominal region. From the wounded shoulder a sanguinary flood had poured until her worn and dirty garments were crimson-dyed; the breasts from which her little ones had drawn their earliest sustenance were discolored with the gory stream. It was an awful sight; promotive of sickening thought and heartrending memories. While Dr. Gardner, Capt. Baldwin and Lieut. Barry were satisfying themselves as to the direct causes of death a detachment from the escort had prepared a shallow grave. It was on the brow of the hill immediately above the scene of crime. Red Hawk had selected the spot and it did not take long for half a dozen muscular infantrymen to shovel away the light soil until the bottom of the trench was about three feet below the surface. In one blanket and covered by another the bodies of the three children were borne up the slope and laid alongside their last resting place. When the detachment returned for the mother Red Hawk took from under his blue overcoat a few yards of heavy white muslin, which he shook out and placed over his sister’s body. Then everybody went up the hill. The mother was first placed in the grave, and upon and alongside of her were the children. Not a sound of audible prayer broke the brief silence. The warm sun shone down on the upturned faces of Elk Creek’s widow and children and searching January breeze played among their ragged garments. “Fill her up, men,” said Lieut. Barry, and that broke the spell. In five minutes a little mound was all that denoted the place from whence the four bodies shall rise to appear before the judgment seat, there to face four of the most despicable assassins this world ever knew.[2]

General Miles mentioned the incident at White Horse Creek specifically in his January 31, 1891, endorsement to the investigation of the battle of Wounded Knee in which he unequivocally found fault with Colonel James W. Forsyth’s handling of the affair. “I also forward herewith report of Captain Frank D. Baldwin, 5th Infty., concerning the finding of the bodies of a party of women and children about three miles from the scene of the engagement on Wounded Knee Creek. This report indicates the nature of some of the results of that unfortunate affair, results which are viewed with the strongest disapproval of the undersigned.”[3] On February 12, 1891, Secretary Redfield Proctor directed an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of the Indian woman and her children:

The bodies of an Indian woman and three children who had been shot down three miles from Wounded Knee were found some days after the battle and buried by Captain Baldwin of the 5th Infantry on the 21st day of January; but it does not appear that this killing had any connection with the fight at Wounded Knee, nor that Colonel Forsyth is in any way responsible for it. Necessary orders will be given to insure a thorough investigation of the transaction and the prompt punishment of the criminals.[4]

That same day Captain Godfrey had four of his troopers, who were involved in the shooting of the mother and her children, provide depositions to a local Geary County notary public. On March 2, General Miles returned the notarized statements and a memorandum summarizing the event with a full paged endorsement wherein he seemed to blame Godfrey while at the same time relieved him from any responsibility. Apparently Miles was only interested in holding Forsyth accountable for actions at Wounded Knee.

Godfrey - Fighting 7th Officers - J. C. H. Grabill - colorized by Amy Gigliotti

The woman and children killed were in the camp of Big Foot on Wounded Knee Creek. In his testimony at the investigation of the Wounded Knee Creek affair Captain Godfrey states that his men killed one boy, one squaw and two children. His testimony as to the locality where these people were killed coincides with the report of Captain Baldwin as to the spot where the bodies were found. Captain Baldwin’s report, which accompanied the papers pertaining to the Wounded Knee Creek investigation, shows also that the tracks of a troop of cavalry horses were found near the bodies, as well as other evidences of the presence of soldiers. The boy, however, was not sixteen or seventeen years of age, but between eight and ten, and the two girls between five and seven. Captain Godfrey subsequently admitted that this party was killed by his men, but gave as an excuse for them that he did not think they could see the Indians on account of the brush. Persons who were on the ground and examined the brush could easily be identified in that locality at a distance of fifty yards. The weight of this excuse, however, is entirely destroyed by the fact that the soldiers could see well enough to take deliberate and deadly aim and kill four persons with six shots, and so near were they as to burn the clothing and flesh of every victim, and one of their United States cartridge shells was found in the midst of the dead bodies. In my opinion, however, Captain Godfrey was not responsible for this crime. All the facts were not ascertained until the regiment was ordered out of this Division, and this incident was regarded in the same light as that of others which occurred in other parts of the field.[5]

bg_peter_d_vroom

Photograph of Colonel Peter D. Vroom, circa 1899, courtesy Wikipedia

Major General Schofield, through the Adjutant General of the Army, next directed Brigadier General Wesley Merritt, Commanding General of the Department of the Missouri to whom the 7th Cavalry was assigned, to conduct a further investigation. The task eventually fell to Major Peter Dumont Vroom, General Merritt’s Inspector General. Vroom was forty-eight years old and had served as a company grade officer for twenty-two years in the 3rd Cavalry before being promoted to the the rank of major in the Inspector General’s Department in 1888.[6]

Major Vroom received his orders on March 13 and conducted interviews with Captain Godfrey, and four enlisted soldiers from D Troop on the 17th and 18th. Vroom began with an interview of the Troop commander and asked Captain Godfrey, “Please state the circumstances with the killing of a party of Indians by a detachment under your command on the 29th of December 1890, after the fight on Wounded Knee Creek.” Godfrey replied with the following:

We were scouting down a creek, which I understand now to be White Horse Creek, and were in a gorge. I was looking to the flanks and also to see if there were any tracks on the ground of anybody that had passed there. Sergeant Gunther and some of the men called out: “Look out, there, Captain, there are some Indians down the creek there.” I halted the detachment, I had about twenty men with me and asked how many Indians they had seen. They replied that they had seen three crouching and running across the creek. My detachment was in column of twos. I dismounted half of the men and told Sergeant Gunther to take some men and deploy them across the creek valley. The other dismounted men I sent to the left on the high ground. While they were taking their posts, I called out several times: “Squaw,” “Pappoose,” “Colah,” and tried to indicate in the best way I could that if they were squaws or children they had no reason to fear us. Sergeant Gunther then called my attention and said: “Captain, they will get the advantage of us if we stand here.” I was waiting for the men on the left to get into position and also waiting to get responses from the Indians. When the men first began to go out I cautioned them particularly against shooting squaws and children, and when they were ready to advance I gave this caution again. I then told the non-commissioned officers to move their squads forward very carefully. Sergeant Gunther’s men moved forward crouching down pretty close to the ground, and pretty soon some one called out: “There they are,” and they commenced firing. I heard the wail of a child and called to them to stop firing, but they had already stopped. The party was then about twenty-five or thirty yards from where the Indians were found. I immediately ran forward to where the bodies were and saw at a glance a boy, squaw and two children lying there. The look was sufficient to satisfy me that I could do nothing for the squaw and children. The boy was lying on his face motionless and I supposed he was dead. I had already ordered the men to continue on down the creek and was turning away hurriedly to look after my detachment when I heard a shot and Blacksmith Carey said: “Captain, the man ain’t dead yet,” and I saw that he had shot him. The horses remained back where the men were dismounted. After examining the creek and ravine below, I called for the led horses. The road led down the valley of the creek, which was narrow, crooked and full of brush. The road passed right near where the bodies were, within a few feet of them.[7]

Major Vroom next asked Captain Godfrey, “Did you notice that the flesh or clothing of any one of the bodies was burned?” Godfrey replied, “I did not, nor do I believe that my men were close enough for the bodies to be powder-burned by their fire, except in the case of the boy. I took the boy to be about fifteen or sixteen years of age.” Major Vroom followed up with, “How thick was the brush at the place where the Indians were found?”[8] Godfrey responded with:

It was such that I did not see them at any time until I went up to the bodies. I am satisfied that the men did not know at what they were firing except that they were Indian, because Sergeant Gunther, as soon as he heard the wail of the child, dropped the butt of his gun on the ground, leaned his weight on it and shook his head in a sorrowful manner. Blacksmith Carey was a recruit who had joined us three weeks before, and when he shot a thought went through my mind that he had evidently heard of the ruses and desperation of wounded Indians. It is a well-known fact that old soldiers take no chances with wounded Indians. In conversation with Captain Baldwin, subsequent to his report of the burial of the bodies, he said that the boy had but one gun shot. Of course then the boy had not been hit in the first firing.[9]

Major Vroom concluded his interview with Captain Godfrey with one final question. “Did your detachment move or handle the bodies at all?” Godfrey answered:

They did not. I have understood from parties who were present, and also from a letter of a newspaper correspondent who was present with Captain Baldwin at the time of the burial that the position of the bodies had been changed after a snow had fallen on them, and it is my belief that if the bodies were powder-burned it was done by some parties subsequent to the day of the fight with malicious intent and purpose to deceive. The fight took place on the 29th of December, 1890.[10]

Major Vroom next began interviewing the enlisted men involved in the shooting. Vroom’s time in the 3rd Cavalry would bode well for one of the soldiers who was also a veteran of the 3rd. Herman Gunther, a native of Baden, Germany, was an experienced forty-five-year-old cavalryman and the senior non-commissioned officer of Captain Godfrey’s D troop. He initially entered the army in 1868 as a young twenty-two-year-old jeweler from New York City. He served for fifteen years in C troop, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, and was discharged from that unit in November 1883 at Fort Thomas, Arizona Territory, having risen to the rank of first sergeant. After six months working as a butcher in St. Louis, Gunther signed up for his fourth five-year enlistment and was assigned to the 7th Cavalry’s D troop. Rising again to first sergeant of his unit by the time D troop arrived at Wounded Knee, First Sergeant Gunther along with Captain Godfrey, ensured that D troop was ably led by two veteran cavalrymen, both with more than two decades in the saddle.[11]

Major Vroom recorded the following statement from First Sergeant Gunther regarding the shooting at White Horse Creek.

Captain Godfrey with one platoon was following a party of Indians that got away from the battle-field and went up a deep ravine leading toward the hills. We were trying to cut them off. The Indians were seen several times by us, but always in such a way that we could not get at them. I should judge that there were about fifteen Indians in that party. When we got to the head of the ravine, we halted. Captain Godfrey and myself then examined the country around closely with field glasses, but were unable to see any signs of the Indians. After staying there quite a while Captain Godfrey started back with the platoon. Just as we were coming around a bend in the road leading down into the bottom, I saw some Indians dodging into the brush. My impression at the time was that we were on to the party of Indians that we had been following up. I called Captain Godfrey’s attention to it, saying to look out as we were right on top of them. The Captain ordered myself and several men to dismount and move forward. At the same time the Captain sung out “How Colah.” In moving ahead Private Kern, who was off his horse quicker than I was, got ahead of me a few paces. I noticed Private Kern raise his carbine and on looking in that direction I saw Indians that were hiding in the bottom of a dry creek. I was unable to distinguish what they were, the brush being so thick Private Kern fired the first shot. I fired immediately after him. As soon as I fired there was some screaming done by a child. The captain then sung out again “How Colah,” and said “Don’t kill any squaws.” I replied that I was afraid it was too late. I am positive that the object I aimed at did not move after I fired. The one that done the squealing was behind the object and must have been wounded by my ball. I then sent Private Kern to the right of me on some high ground with instructions to watch the brush from up there. Myself and Private Settle, who had come up in the meantime, went through the brush down the creek, but we did not find any more Indians. I had not been closer than from twenty to twenty-five yards to the Indians we shot at.[12]

Major Vroom than asked the first sergeant if he could distinctly see the Indians when he fired.

I could just see the outline of something lying close to the ground. The brush was very thick. It was thicker between me and the Indians than it was between Kern and the Indians. I had to fire right through the brush. After I fired I went down the creek and did not see the bodies of the Indians. The captain told me that there was one woman and three children in there killed. There were only three shots fired, one by myself and two by Private Kern. After I got a little way down the creek I heard another shot fired in our rear, but I did not know at the time who fired it.[13]

In the course of Major Vroom’s investigation into the killing of a Lakota woman and her three children, he next interviewed Blacksmith Maurice Carey, a twenty-three-year-old emigrant from Northern Ireland who had enlisted in the army at Wheeling, West Virginia, in the middle of September 1890. He was one of the new recruits that joined the regiment at Pine Ridge at the beginning of December. Carey was a horseshoer by trade prior to entering the military and Captain Godfrey appointed him to the vacant blacksmith position in D troop in the middle of December. Carey had light blue eyes, light brown hair, a fair complexion and stood five feet eight and a half inches tall. He provided Major Vroom with the following statement.[14]

We were going through a ravine and saw a party of Indians trying to cross. Then we were dismounted and I ran back about twenty yards and fired a shot and then I went up over the bluff and came down to the captain. Then we were looking at those Indians and I caught one by the hair and lifted him up. He looked at me and pulled himself away and made a movement and I jumped away from him and shot him through the head. I shot him because I was afraid he was going to shoot me.[15]

When asked how old the Indian was, Carey responded, “I took him to be seventeen or eighteen years old. He was pretty tall. I took him to be as tall as me.” Major Vroom next asked the blacksmith how close he was to the Indian when he shot. “I could not say.” replied Carey. “I jumped away from him as quickly as I could and then shot him.” “Was he lying on the ground when you shot him?” queried the investigator. “Yes, sir.” was the answer. The inspector general concluded the interview by asking, “How long have you been in the service?” to which Carey replied, “A little over six months.”[16]

Major Vroom next interviewed Private William Kern, a twenty-three-year-old German emigrant who had been working as a baker when he enlisted at Newark, New Jersey, two years earlier. Kern was short in stature standing just five feet four inches with hazel eyes and brown hair. Private Kern provided the following statement:

After the shooting at Wounded Knee was over, we were ordered by Captain Godfrey to mount our horses and follow up a ravine. We followed that ravine along and came upon open ground, where we saw an Indian about two miles ahead of us. After we had looked over the ground carefully, we could not see any signs of other Indians and turned off to our right going down towards a big ravine full of underbrush and a road leading through the ravine from one end to the other. As soon as we came down the ravine the road bent to the left. As soon as we came around that bend we seen Indians. Captain Godfrey was riding in front and me and 1st Sergeant Gunther right behind him. Then we caught a glimpse of one Indian who appeared to be a buck. As soon as he saw us he jumped from the road and Captain Godfrey halted the command and told Sergeant Gunther to dismount and take some men and be prepared. There was me and Private Settle and Sergeant Gunther dismounted. The rest of the troop was sent out to the right and left of the ravine. As soon as we were dismounted, Captain Godfrey hallooed out twice: “How Colah,” and while he hallooed out “How Colah,” I was ahead and 1st Sergeant Gunther following me on the right side of the ravine in a kind of a washout, and we could see the head of an Indian twenty-five yards away. Captain Godfrey didn’t get any answer. By that time I had loaded up and Sergeant Gunther the same. I fired first and Sergeant Gunther Immediately after me. As soon as I had fired I reloaded again. I heard an Indian grunting, but it was too late for me to stop and I pulled off my second shot. Sergeant Gunther ordered me then to go along the ravine and search careful and he says he expects a lot of Indians in that ravine. Private Settle came on the left of me to help search the ravine. We went through that ravine carefully and couldn’t find nothing else. There was a log house in front of us on top, and we went up and searched that.[17]

Inspector General Vroom asked Private Kern if he could distinctly see what he was aiming at when he fired at the Indians, to which Kern responded, “I could see a head that I was aiming at. The Indians were lying down in the same washout that we were in. The underbrush was very thick. I did not see the Indians after they had been killed.” Major Vroom concluded the interview by asking Kern how far he was from the Indians when he fired. “About twenty-five yards, just the width of the ravine.” was Kern’s reply.[18]

The final witness that Major Vroom questioned was Private Green Adam Settle, a thirty-one-year-old native Kentuckian. He had served for three years with the Fifth Cavalry at Camp Supply, Indian Territory, in the mid 1880s and enlisted into the 7th Cavalry in January 1889. According to his most recent enlistment record, Private Settle stood just under five feet nine inches, had gray eyes, light hair and a fair complexion. Settle provided the following account to the inspector.

Coming down the ravine Captain Godfrey was leading the detachment, Sergeant Gunther was next to Captain Godfrey, Private Kern and myself were first in column. There were some Indians, I could not say how many, that appeared right in front of us in the road, and some one from behind had seen the Indian first and cried out: “There is Indians ahead of us.” The captain didn’t seem to see them at first and I didn’t see them till some one spoke. As soon as I saw them I only saw one, and he ran across the road into the under brush. The captain ordered the 1st Sergeant to dismount some men and go ahead. Sergeant Gunther, Private Kern and myself was the three men to dismount. Kern was in front, Sergeant Gunther was next to him and I was last. Private Kern moved on to where he saw the Indian run out of the road and fired two shots into a little ravine where the Indians had hid. Sergeant Gunther fired one shot and we then moved on down the ravine. There was a road running down the ravine and I was on the left side of the road as we went and Kern was on the right. We went on out as far as the brush was thick until it began to get open, to an old house. After we had looked around there, the detachment came up and we mounted our horses and went away.[19]

Major Vroom asked Settle if he could see the Indians when Private Kern and First Sergeant Gunther fired.

No, sir. There was a kind of dry creek or ravine that they were in that must have been twenty-five yards from the road. The underbrush and grass were very thick. I was about twenty-five yards from Sergeant Gunther and Private Kern when they fired. I did not see what they fired at. I did not see the Indians after they came out of the road. After the shots were fired, Captain Godfrey advanced toward where the Indians were and called out “How Colah.” Then he told Gunther to send men on down and search out the ravine. I went on down the ravine and did not see any more Indians. I did not see the bodies of the Indians that had been killed.[20]

Having questioned all of the soldiers involved in the incident, Major Vroom concluded his investigation with a summation of testimony he had collected. Writing on March 24, 1891, from the Inspector General’s Office, Department of the Missouri in St. Louis, Vroom forwarded the following report through department headquarters to the adjutant general’s office at the War Department.

It appears from the evidence adduced that on the 29th of December, 1890, immediately after the fight at Wounded Knee Creek, Captain E. S. Godfrey, 7th Cavalry, with a detachment of his troop, was in pursuit of a party of about fifteen Indians, who had escaped from the battle-field, and were making their way through a deep ravine toward the hills. On his return, while moving down along the valley of what he subsequently learned to be White Horse Creek, it was reported to Captain Godfrey that Indians had been seen in his front in the creek bottom. Captain Godfrey halted his detachment, dismounted half of it and ordered a non-commissioned officer to take some men and deploy them across the valley of the creek, while the other dismounted men were sent to the left on the high ground. While his men were deploying, Captain Godfrey called out several times to the Indians: “Squaw,” “Pappoose,” “Colah,” and tried in every way to indicate to them that if they were squaws or children they had nothing to fear. The men of the troop had previously been particularly cautioned against shooting squaws and children and when they were ready to advance on this occasion the caution was repeated. First Sergeant Herman Gunther was in charge of the squad directed to move down the ravine. After waiting for sometime to give the men on the left time to get into position, and also to receive responses from the Indian, Captain Godfrey ordered his non-commissioned officers to move their squads forward very carefully. The men under Sergeant Gunther advanced close to the ground and soon commenced firing. Captain Godfrey, hearing the wail of a child, called to them to stop firing, but they had already stopped. The party was then about twenty-five or thirty yards from where the Indians were found to be. Captain Godfrey immediately went forward to where the bodies were and found a boy, a squaw and two children lying there, the squaw and children dead, and the boy, who was lying on his face, apparently so. At this juncture, Blacksmith Maurice Carey, who after the first firing had gone around on top of a high bluff, from which he could see the dead Indians in the creek bottom, joined Captain Godfrey. As the latter turned away to look after his detachment, Blacksmith Carey took hold of the Indian boy’s head to lift him up. As he did so, the boy opened his eyes and made a movement that evidently frightened Carey, who jumped back and shot him through the head. Blacksmith Carey states that he shot the Indian because he was afraid the Indian would shoot him.
But five shots were fired during this affair, one by Sergeant Gunther, two by Blacksmith Carey and two by Private Kern. The evidence shows that the brush in the creek bottom was very thick and that the men could not distinctly see what they were firing at. The Indians were evidently lying down and close together when shot. With the exception of the last shot fired by Blacksmith Carey, which killed the Indian boy, all of the shots were fired at distances of from twenty to thirty yards, precluding the possibility of the person or clothing of every Indian having been powder-burned.
The whole affair lasted but a few moments. The men were excited and there seems to be no doubt that they believed that the Indians seen belonged to the party they had pursued from the battle-field. The killing of the woman and children was unfortunate, but there is nothing to show that it was deliberate or intentional. First Sergeant Gunther is an old soldier of the 3d Cavalry and has been personally known to me for many years. That he would deliberately shoot down women and children I do not believe. Blacksmith Carey is a recruit and at the time of this occurrence had been but three weeks with his troop. As suggested by Captain Godfrey, it is probable that his action in killing the Indian boy was prompted by what he had heard from old soldiers of the ruses and desperation of wounded Indians. Opinions differ as to the age of the Indian boy. Captain Godfrey thinks that his age was 16 or 17 years, while Blacksmith Carey states that he was 18 or 19 years old and as tall as himself.[21]

Major General John M. Schofield, Commanding General of the Army, endorsed Major Vroom’s report on April 2 adding, “In my judgment no further action is required in this case.” The report was marked “Seen by the Secretary of War” and filed with the Adjutant General’s Office.[22]

The following November Captain Baldwin wrote to the infantry officer who had accompanied him the previous January when the bodies were discovered and buried. Captain Thomas H. Barry, who in January was a First Lieutenant in K Company, 1st Infantry, responded to Captain Baldwin on November 24, 1891.

On Tuesday January the 20th, 1891, in command of a detachment of thirty (30) mounted men of the First Infantry, I left Pine Ridge Agency S.D., at 7.30 O’Clock A.M., and proceeded to White Horse creek, where I arrived at 10.00 O’Clock A.M., and there found the bodies of four dead Indians – a squaw and her three children, one a boy about ten years old, and two little girls, one about eight and the other about six years of age. The squaw was shot under the right shoulder blade, there being no exit wound, the little boy was shot on the left side of the head, the ball coming out under the right eye, the hair where the bullet entered being singed; the little girl who had fallen in front of her mother, was shot in the right breast, the ball coming out at lower left side of the back, and the little girl—the youngest child—who fell just to the right of her mother, and who at the time, must have been hanging to her skirts, was shot in the back, the ball coming out at the right breast. All the shots ranged downwards. About two feet to the left and a little in rear of the squaw an empty cartridge shell marked F-88-9 was found. The position of the bodies indicated that they had been shot at the same time and from above, the result of a volley delivered near enough to them to have power-burned each. The print of the hoof of an American horse shod with “Goodenough” shoe was found in the road about thirty yards down the creek. Red Hawk, brother of the squaw, an Agency policeman, accompanied us and at his request the bodies were buried on the hill above and a little in front of where they were found. The above is taken from notes made by me at the time and copied into my diary upon my return to camp at Pine Ridge Agency. The squaw and her children were evidently making their way from the “Wounded Knee” battle field to the Pine Ridge Agency by an out-of-the-way and not usually travelled [sic] route, when they were discovered and killed. They were skulking through the brush along the White Horse creek, having left the road to avoid detection by their pursuers, whom they undoubtedly saw or heard. No weapon or anything resembling one, was found on or near the bodies.[23]

Hand written on the back of the letter, possibly by Captain Baldwin or General Miles, was the following notation, “Angel Island, Cal., Nov. 24, 1891. Capt. Thomas H. Barry. Statement as to condition of woman and children powder burned when shot near Wounded Knee Creek, S.D.” The letter was not forwarded to the War Department and the investigation remained closed.[24]

More than a decade following the Pine Ridge campaign, E. S. Godfrey, by then a Colonel, was actively seeking promotion to flag officer rank. He wrote to the Adjutant General of the Army in July 1902, “to request that I be appointed a Brigadier General.” President Roosevelt held a negative view of Wounded Knee, and after reviewing General Miles’s investigation, he had determined that Godfrey was personally responsible for the killing of non-combatants at Wounded Knee and would never be promoted again in a Roosevelt administration.[25]

A common practice in the Army at that time was that prominent citizens would conduct a writing campaign to the War Department and the President on behalf of a colonel they endorsed for promotion. In 1903 U.S. Senator Levi Ankeny from the state of Washington, where Colonel Godfrey was stationed at Fort Walla Walla, wrote to the President seeking a generalship for Godfrey.  President Roosevelt apparently responded suggesting that the Senator reconsider based on Godfrey’s role in the killing of women and children at Wounded Knee. The senator decided to look into the matter himself, contacting officers who knew the circumstances surrounding Wounded Knee and requesting Colonel Godfrey provide him his version of events. Colonel Godfrey responded to the senator with a letter saying, “While I am deeply grateful that you should, unsolicited, feel enough personal interest in me to request my advancement, words cannot express my appreciation of the kindness which gives me an opportunity to defend myself when I had no idea that a defense was necessary.” Included with the colonel’s letter was a five-page manuscript that Godfrey typed and signed on December 31, 1903. His account was similar to earlier testimony and differed only in that Godfrey recalled that his soldiers discharged their weapons only after he gave the command “commence firing” and promptly ceased firing on Godfrey’s command.  He stressed that dead leaves on the brush obscured his and the soldiers’ view such that they knew they were firing at Indians, but could not tell they were women or children.[26] Godfrey also related details after Captain Baldwin and Lieutenant Barry found and buried the bodies.  Following is the latter portion of Godfrey’s 1903 manuscript.

Sometime after the investigation had closed Lieut. T. H. Barry… came to my tent and told me he had commanded the escort to take Capt. Baldwin out to where my men had killed the squaw and children; that there were tracks of persons in the snow around and near where the bodies were found, that all the bodies were powder marked. I think he said the bodies had been moved from their original positiond [sic], but the places where they had been could be plainly distinguished in the snow. My recollection is that he said on their way back to Pine Ridge Baldwin asked him what he, Barry, thought about it and that Barry was non-committal. Then Baldwin said, to this effect, “It looks pretty bad but I don’t know that I blame him,” meaning me. Barry said he told me this as it might be important for me to do something about it. I said that I had testified to about all that was to be said before the Court of Inquiry and said it was impossible that the squaw and girls could be powder marked when killed….
It afterwards appeared that some newspaper correspondents were taken along (in fact it was a newspaper expedition) so that the horrors and brutalities etc., could be properly verified and exploited to the world. One of the correspondents was George H. Harris [sic: Harries], of the Washington Eve-Star.
I don’t believe (but of course cannot be positive) that Barry knew the objects of the expedition–but I think he had a suspicion and hence his warning to me. I relied on the integrity of the affair and supposed integrity of the investigation. I was not aware of the attendance of newspaper correspondents.
I was severly injured in a [rail road] wreck on our return to Fort Riley and never saw the correspondence, nor did I ever see anything of Baldwin’s report. Nothing was said to me by any one at Pine Ridge up to the day of our departure by Miles, Baldwin or correspondents.
The 7th Cavlary left Pine Ridge about January 21. After we had been on the march for several miles, an orderly was sent to me saying General Miles wanted to see me. I reported at Pine Ridge and he (Miles) said the bodies of a squaw and children had been found and it was believed they had bend [sic] killed by my men. I related the circumstances and told him I had testified the whole matter to the Court of Inquiry. He then went on to say how he thought they had been killed, etc., that my men had crawled up over an embankment behind them and shooting down had killed them as they were hiding under this bank; that my men were so close that the bodies were all powder burned. I told him my men had not crawled up behind them and that it was impossible for the woman and girls to be powder burned. I said that I could not see them at all and that my men were between 35 and 50 yards away and could not distinguish what they were on account of the bushes with dead leaves, but could only get a glimpse of their positions. He said there were not enough bushes there to interfere and that my men were close enough to powder burn them. I replied that I was there and knew what I was talking about and if the woman and girls were power burned it was done by somebody else and not by my men–That I and my men regretted it as much as any body could, but it was a misfortune and not wanton. That when I heard the wail of those children, I could only think of my own little children at my home.
The investigation then stopped. He asked after my personal affairs and the interview closed.
I had not a thought when I quitted his presence but that I had fully established the innocence of myself and my men from anything wanton or brutal. General Miles in his report of the campaigns or the review of the action of my regiment charged to the effect that my men had been guilty of wanton creulty in the killing of the woman and children but that I was not responsible. It exonerated me from blame, but held my men responsible….
I was not satisfied to be exonerated myself and have my men held to blame and was consulting some of my friends as to the best procedure as soon as I should be able to attend to the matter. While I was still in the Hospital at Fort Riley, Kans., Major P. D. Vroom… came to Fort Riley and investigated the whole matter, taking the testimony of myself and all the men engaged in the valley who did any shooting and perhaps others. I never saw his report, but I was given to understand that he exonerated both my men and myself. It must have been so, for nothing further was said or done about it that I ever heard of….
While I was on sick leave I was ordered to Washington…. Not long afterward I got a letter from Capt. Barry… saying he had received a letter from Capt. Baldwin… asking him to give him his recollections of what they had seen when they went out to visit the scene of the killing of the woman and children by my troop. Barry said he didn’t know Baldwin’s purpose in making this request but thought he should let me know of it.
I went to Col. J. S. Gilmore, A. A. G., then in the War Department related the circumstances from beginning to end and asked him to let me know if there was anything in the Department that was derogatory to me or my men in that affair that was not satisfactorily explained. He said he would investigate and let me know. After several days he told me there seemed to be nothing, and that everthing [sic] was all right; that if anything came up or came in he would let me know. He assured me on several occasions that nothing had come up.[27]

Senator Ankeny forwarded Colonel Godfrey’s manuscript along with another letter to President Roosevelt again recommending Godfrey be promoted. No such promotion was forthcoming. There is another letter of interest in Edward Godfrey’s file in the National Archive’s regarding President Roosevelt’s refusal to promote the cavalry colonel.  From his retirement home in Columbus, Ohio, Major General James W. Forsyth wrote on June 22, 1904, to the Secretary of War, William H. Taft.

I have heard, through friends in Washington, that information had been given to the President, of such a character as to cause him to conclude that Colonel E. S. Godfrey, of the Regular Army, had been “harsh, cruel, and even brutal,” at the fight at Wounded Knee, with the Sioux Indians, by the 7th cavalry, which regiment I commanded at the time, and that on Colonel Godfrey’s efficiency record an entry had been made charging him with the wanton killing of women and children at Wounded Knee.
My regiment and I had the misfortune to incur the enmity and disapproval of General Miles on that occasion, and a long and tedious investigation occurred at the time, covering all the allegations made by General Miles, including the accusation of the unnecessary killing of women and children, which I presume is referred to in the present reflections upon the character and record of Colonel Godfrey.
It was an entirely one-sided investigation, in which absolutely no defense was made by either myself or the 7th cavalry, and notwithstanding this fact we were completely exonerated, not only by the then commanding general of the army, General Schofield, but by the then Secretary of War, Mr. Proctor. So far as my knowledge goes, even the report of General Miles did not hold Colonel Godfrey personally responsible for the unfortunate and unintentional killing of some women and children by members of his troop during the engagement as above mentioned.
At any rate, this occurrence was subsequently investigated by Colonel Peter Vroom, Inspector General, who exonerated Colonel Godferey from any personal culpapbility or responsibility for the said killing of women and children.
I have known Colonel Godfrey for a long time, and I assure you that harshness, cruelty, and brutality are entirely foreign to and inconsistent with his real character. I always esteemed him as one of the best officers in my regiment, and one of the best and worthiest in the service.
All of the investigations mentioned above are fully covered by records which must now be on file in the War Department, and I sincerely trust that you will find time to look over these records carefully, and that erroneous impressions or unjustifiable entries on his record will not be permitted to do grave injustice to a worthy soldier.
I take much pleasure in cordially recommending Colonel Godfrey for advancement in the service. I have no personal interest whatever in this matter, and this letter is a voluntary effort to vindicate a former worthy subordinate, and has not been solicited either directly or indirectly by Colonel Godfrey, who knows nothing about my writing this letter.[28]

Roosevelt eventually did promote Godfrey to brigadier general in 1907 likely based on the counsel of Major General J. Franklin Bell, Chief of Staff of the Army and fellow former 7th Cavalry officer who had served with Godfrey during the Pine Ridge campaign. However, the promotion came in Godfrey’s sixty-fourth year when he would be retired by law, and, thus, not be eligible for promotion to major general. In 1931 at the request of the Chief of Staff of the Historical Section of the U.S. Army War College, General Godfrey wrote a letter recounting his reminiscences of Wounded Knee and White Horse Creek. With only slight variations, his recollection was in line with his 1891 testimony and his 1903 manuscript.[29]

Regarding the lives of the other individuals involved in the White Horse Creek tragedy, Blacksmith Maurice Carey, the Irishman from Wheeling, West Virginia, was discharged from the army at Fort Riley for disability in January 1892 with a characterization of service of ‘excellent.’ His life after the army is lost to history.[30]

Private William Kern, the German emigrant from Newark, New Jersey, was shot in the face during the Drexel Mission fight along the White Clay Creek the day after the Wounded Knee battle. Kern drowned on September 20, 1891, while fishing in the Kansas River, still assigned to D troop at Fort Riley. The army ruled his death was not in the line of duty. He was buried in the Fort Riley Post Cemetery.[31]

Green A. Settle is buried in A. R. Dyche Memorial Park at London, Kentucky.[32]

Private Green A. Settle of Jackson County, Kentucky, continued his service with the 7th Cavalry. During the Spanish American War, he served as the first sergeant of troop H, in the 1st U. S. Volunteer Cavalry, the Rough Riders, which was one of the elements of the regiment that did not go to Cuba. After the war and seventeen years in the cavalry, he settled in London, Kentucky, where he worked as a barber. About 1903 he married twenty-one-year old Annie Reams and they had six children together. Green Settle died in 1946 and his wife 1969.[33]

First Sergeant Herman Gunther and his wife, Emma, are buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery.[35]

First Sergeant Herman Gunther enlisted two more times ultimately retiring on June 19, 1899, at Fort Riley, Kansas, after thirty years of service. At the time of his retirement he was still serving as D troop’s first sergeant. He married eighteen-year-old Emma Kramer, a dress maker from Junction City, Kansas, in 1892. The Gunther’s settled in San Antonio, Texas. They had one son, Arthur, born in 1895. Herman Gunther died in 1931, Emma in 1945.[34]

The names of the children of Walks-Carrying-the-Red, her son and two daughters who were shot and killed along White Horse Creek at the hands of the cavalrymen of D troop, remain unrecorded, their bodies resting in unmarked graves where they were buried with their mother by Captain Baldwin and Lieutenant Barry’s party on January 21, 1891, three weeks after their deaths.[36]

Red-Hawk was photographed numerous times by several renowned western photographers. This photo was taken by Edward S. Curtis, circa 1913.

Red-Hawk was photographed numerous times by several renowned western photographers. This photo was taken by Edward S. Curtis, circa 1913.

Austin Red-Hawk, the Oglala policeman who discovered the bodies of his sister, nephew, and nieces and brought the burial party to their location on White Horse Creek, later served as a corporal in Detachment D, U.S. Indian Scouts. Born in 1854, he was 22 when he helped defend his village against the 7th Cavalry along the Greasy Grass, a river the soldiers called the Little Big Horn. He lived the remainder of his life at Pine Ridge with his wife, Alice, their three children, Susie, James, and Noah, and his other sister, Cedar-Woman. In his last years, he received a pension from the government for his service as a scout. Red-Hawk died in 1928.[37]

Endnotes
[1] Kent and Baldwin Investigation, 732-733.
[2] George H. Harries, “A Prairie Tragedy: How a Sioux Squaw and Her Three Little Ones Met Death,” Evening Star (Washington, D. C.: 27 Jan 1891), 6.
[3] Kent and Baldwin Investigation, 767.
[4] Peter D. Vroom, “Investigation of circumstances connected with shooting of an Indian woman and three children by U.S. Troops near the scene of the battle of Wounded Knee Creek,” in Reports and Correspondence Related to the Army Investigations of the Battle at Wounded Knee and to the Sioux Campaign of 1890–1891, the National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington: The National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1975), Roll 1, Target 3, Jan. 1891, 1136.
[5] Ibid., 1139-1140.
[6] Adjutant General’s Office, Official Army Register for 1912, (Washington: War Department, 1912), 478.
[7] Ibid., 1145-1147.
[8] Ibid., 1147-1148.
[9] Ibid., 1148.
[10] Ibid., 1148-1149.
[11] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C., 
[12] Vroom Investigation, 1149-1151.
[13] Ibid., 1151.
[14] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, Years: 1885-1890, Range: A-D, Page: 255, Line: 304.
[15] Vroom Investigation, 1151.
[16] Ibid., 1152.
[17] Ibid., 1152.
[18] Ibid., 1153.
[19] Ibid., 1153-1154.
[20] Ibid., 1154-1155.
[21] Ibid., 1142-1145.
[22] Ibid., 1441.
[23] Thomas H. Barry, letter to Frank D. Baldwin dated 24 Nov 1891, Nelson A. Miles Papers (Carlisle, PA: Military History Institute), box 4, Sioux War, 1890-1891 Wounded Knee, Pullman Strike, Commanding General.
[24] Ibid.
[25] NARA M1395, Letters Received by the Appointment Commission and Personal (ACP) Branch, within the Adjutant General’s Office, 1871-1894 (Record Group 94), Roll: M1395_Gillmore-Granger, File Number: 6626 ACP 1876, Name: Godfrey, Edward S., 288-604.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid. Edward S. Godfrey’s manuscript that he mailed to Senator Ankeny was later published in The 1963 All Posse-Corral Book of the Denver Posse of the Westerners with an introduction and biographical details by Barry C. Johnson, page 66-72. Following article was a republished lecture by George H. Harries describing his work as a correspondent during the campaign, including much of the text from his article quoted in this post. Barry C. Johnson republished his article with Godfrey’s manuscript in the April-July 1977 Brand Book vol. 19, page 1-13.
[28] Ibid., 629-630.
[29] Associated Press, “Brig. Gen. Godfrey Retired,” The Sun (New York: 10 Oct 1907), 2; Peter Cozzens, ed., Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars, 1865-1890, (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2004), 615-619.
[30] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, Years: 1885-1890, Range: A-D, Page: 255, Line: 304.
[31] Ibid., Page: 331, Line: 34; National Archives and Records Administration, Burial Registers of Military Posts and National Cemeteries, compiled ca. 1862-ca. 1960, Archive Number: 44778151, Series: A1 627, Record Group Title: Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985, Record Group Number: 92.
[32] Stephen and Andrea Brangan, “Green Adam Settle,” FindAGrave, (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=78186393) accessed 23 May 2014. Uploaded 1 June 2012.
[33] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, Years: 1893-1897, Range: L-Z, Page: 92, Line: 56; Ancestry.com, U.S., Spanish American War Volunteers, 1898 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012, Original data: General Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers who Served During the War with Spain, Microfilm publication M871, 126 rolls, ARC ID: 654543, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917, Record Group 94; Ancestry.com, United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004, Year: 1900, Census Place: London, Laurel, Kentucky, Roll: 537, Page: 1A, Enumeration District: 0147, FHL microfilm: 1240537; Ancestry.com, Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1953 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
[34] Ancestry.com, United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004, Year: 1900, Census Place: San Antonio Ward 6, Bexar, Texas, Roll: 1611, Page: 12A, Enumeration District: 0100, FHL microfilm: 1241611; Year: 1910, Census Place: San Antonio Ward 6, Bexar, Texas, Roll: T624_1531, Page: 8A, Enumeration District: 0048, FHL microfilm: 1375544; Year: 1930, Census Place: San Antonio, Bexar, Texas, Roll: 2296, Page: 25B, Enumeration District: 0105, Image: 556.0, FHL microfilm: 2342030; Year: 1940, Census Place: San Antonio, Bexar, Texas, Roll: T627_4205, Page: 10B, Enumeration District: 259-143; “Kansas, Marriages, 1840-1935,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FW2B-2JM : accessed 30 May 2014), Herman Gunther and Emma Kramer, 14 Jul 1892, citing Junction City, Geary, Kansas, reference p 159; FHL microfilm 1685972; Ancestry.com, Texas, Death Certificates, 1903–1982 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013, Original data: Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas Death Certificates, 1903–1982. iArchives, Orem, Utah, Ancestry.com, U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012, Original data: Interment Control Forms, 1928–1962, Interment Control Forms, A1 2110-B. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92, The National Archives at College Park, College Park, Maryland.
[35] Laura T., “Herman Gunther,” FindAGrave, (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=96751442) accessed 23 May 2014. Uploaded 24 Apr 2013.
[36] The Westerners Brand Book, vol 19, 1963, page 82 provides detail as to the identity of the Lakota woman, “Mother and children were not divided even in death, Prone, and with the right side of her face frozen to the solid earth was the squaw ‘Walks-Carrying-The-Red.’ Snow almost covered an extended arm and filled the creases in the little clothing she wore. Piled up alongside of her were her little ones, the youngest with nothing to cover its ghastly nakedness but a calf buffalo robe.”
[37] Ancestry.com, U.S., Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940 (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007), Year: 1904; Roll: M595_369; Page: 62; Line: 6, Agency: Pine Ridge; Ancestry.com, United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004), Year: 1900, Census Place: Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Shannon, South Dakota, Roll: 1556, Enumeration District: 0046, FHL microfilm: 1241556; Year: 1910, Census Place: Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Wounded Knee, South Dakota, Roll: T624_1475, Page: 26A, Enumeration District: 0119, FHL microfilm: 1375488; Year: 1920, Census Place: Township 40, Washington, South Dakota, Roll: T625_1725, Page: 5A, Enumeration District: 214, Image: 1125; National Archives and Records Administration, U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000), Name: Redhawk, State Filed: South Dakota, Widow: Alice Red-Hawk, Roll number: T288_387; Ancestry.com, South Dakota, Death Index, 1879-1955 (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004), Certificate Number: 116041, Page Number: 782; Edward S. Curtis, photo., from http://www.American-Tribes.com (http://amertribes.proboards.com/thread/803), posted 3 Dec 2009, accessed 14 Jan 2017.
Note: An earlier version of this essay was posted on 23 May 2014. It has been updated to include information originally posted in “Testimony of Captain Edward Settle Godfrey, Commander, D Troop, 7th Cavalry,” the letter from Captain Thomas H. Barry, and files from Godfrey’s personnel file including his 1903 manuscript of the tragedy at White Horse Creek. Block quotes of the troopers earlier depositions dated 12 Feb 1891 were removed as they were redundant to the testimony provided to Major Vroom and already presented.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Investigation of the White Horse Creek Tragedy,” Army at Wounded Knee (Sumter, SC: Russell Martial Research, 2013-2014, http://wp.me/p3NoJy-ju), posted 18 January 2017, accessed _______.

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