1891 Annual Report of Major General Miles – Part 3

In Part 3 of his Annual Report of 1891, Major General Nelson A. Miles details the arrest and death of Sitting Bull, the arrest of Hump, the disposition of the troops deployed to the region, and Brigadier General John R. Brooke’s efforts to end the outbreak peacefully.

Condition Of The Troops.

Gen. Nelson A. Miles viewing hostile Indian camp near Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota.- Cropped from photograph by John C. H. Grabill, January 16, 1891.

Gen. Nelson A. Miles viewing hostile Indian camp near Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota.- Cropped from photograph by John C. H. Grabill, January 16, 1891.

A period of several years of peace and inactivity from serious field service had created a feeling of security on the part of the settlers and a degree of confidence on the part of the troops not warranted by the real condition of affairs. It was found that this period of peace had, to some extent, impaired the efficiency of the troops. This was noticeable in the want of proper equipment for field operations, especially in transportation. There was a reasonable amount of transportation for the ordinary post or garrison service, but it was entirely inadequate for field operations. The time to prepare them for active campaigning was so short that they were hardly equipped before their services were required in the field. While the danger and alarm was general throughout the settlements and thousands of unfortunate people, whose homes were scattered throughout that vast territory, were sacrificing what little property they had to obtain transportation to move their families out of the country, leaving much of their property uncared for and unprotected, the hostile element of the different tribes was gathering strength and hastening the time for a general outbreak. With as little delay as possible troops were being properly prepared for field service and concentrated where their services would be available.

It was the design of the division commander to anticipate the movements of the hostile Indians and arrest or overpower them in detail before they had time to concentrate in one large body, and it was deemed advisable to secure, if possible, the principal leaders and organizers, namely, Sitting Bull, and others, and remove them for a time from that country. To this end authority was given on November 25, 1890, to William F. Cody, a reliable frontiersman, who has had much experience as chief of scouts, and who knew Sitting Bull very well, and had perhaps as much influence over him as any living man, to proceed to the Standing Rock Agency to induce Sitting Bull to come in with him, making such terms as he (Cody) might deem necessary, and if unsuccessful in this, to arrest him quietly and to remove him quickly from his camp to the nearest military station. He was authorized to take a few trusty men with him for that purpose. He proceeded to Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation and received from Lieut. Col. Drum, commanding, the necessary assistance, but his mission was either suspected or made known to the friends of Sitting Bull, who deceived him as to his whereabouts. This had the effect of delaying the arrest for a time.

At this time the division commander proceeded to Washington for the purpose of laying before the authorities the plans and measures to be taken to suppress the hostilities should they commence, and to supply the necessary food to keep the Indians from suffering. Authority was given to supply the necessary additional food out of the Army appropriations, as a military necessity, and the Secretary of the Interior also gave authority to issue the rations authorized by treaty of 1889. In addition, orders were given directing all the Sioux agencies to be placed practically under the control of the military, especially so far as related to the police and management of the Indians, and the civil agents were directed to comply with the orders received from the military authorities. Complying with the terms of the treaty so far as the ration was concerned went far to retaining the loyalty of a good percentage of the Indians who might otherwise have become involved. This much having been accomplished active measures were then taken to suppress the hostile element who were upon the verge of a general outbreak.

Arrest And Death Of Sitting Bull.

The first measure for the arrest of Sitting Bull having failed orders were given on December 10, 1890, directing the commanding officer, Fort Yates, to make it his personal duty to secure the arrest of Sitting Bull without delay. Accordingly the commanding officer, Fort Yates, directed that certain troops of his command under Capt. Fechét go to Sitting Bull’s camp and the remainder of the troops be held in readiness for service. Mr. McLaughlin, the Indian agent, selected a body of police (composed of Indians in whom he had confidence), who were ordered to the camp of Sitting Bull to make the arrest, to be followed and supported by the troops under Capt. Fechét. Had Sitting Bull submitted to the arrest by the lawful authorities of the Government he would have been unharmed and probably alive today. Although urged to submit quietly by the men of his own race, clothed with the authority of the Government, acting as police, he resisted, and made a determined effort to avoid going with them. In fact, he raised the cry of revolt, which gathered around him a strong force of his followers, numbering something like seventy-five warriors, who opened fire upon the police, and a desperate fight ensued, in which Sitting Bull and seven of his warriors were killed and many wounded; not, however, without serious loss to the brave Indian policemen carrying out the orders of their agent and the officers of the Government. Six of their number were killed and others seriously wounded. In fact, the whole number would have been massacred had it not been for the timely arrival of Capt. Fechét, who quickly made proper disposition of his force, and with his mounted men and one Hotchkiss gun, drove back the warriors surrounding the police and pursued them through the wooded country for several miles. The action of Capt. Fechét was gallant, judicious, and praiseworthy, and it had the effect of striking the first and most serious blow to the hostile element, and of totally destroying it on that reservation.

Regarding the death of Sitting Bull, his tragic fate was but the ending of a tragic life. Since the days of Pontiac, Tecumseh, and Red Jacket no Indian has had the power of drawing to him so large a following of his race, and molding and wielding it against the authority of the United States, or of inspiring it with greater animosity against the white race and civilization. In his earlier years he had gained a reputation by constantly organizing and leading war and raiding parties; and, although not a hereditary chief, was the recognized head of the disaffected element when the Sioux were at war, and in his person was the exponent of the hostile element around which gathered the young, ambitious warriors of the different tribes, and his death, for which he alone was responsible, was a great relief to the country in which he had been the terror for many years.

His followers who were not killed were pursued by the troops, a portion surrendered at the Standing Rock Agency, the others with the exception of thirty went to the reservation to the south, where they were intercepted and surrendering their arms were taken to Forts Bennett and Sully, where they were kept for several months under military surveillance.

Removal, Of Hump.

The next important event was the removal of Hump, who bad become disaffected on the Cheyenne River Reservation, which was accomplished without violence. For seven years Capt. Ewers, Fifth U. S. Infantry, had had charge of this chief and his followers, and had gained their confidence and respect. At the request of the division commander, Gapt. Ewers was ordered from Texas to South Dakota, and directed to put himself in communication with Hump. Hump was regarded as one of the most dangerous Indians in that part of the country. In fact, so formidable was he considered that the civil agents did not think it possible for Capt. Ewers to communicate with him. Capt. Ewers promptly acted upon his instructions, proceeded to Fort Bennett, and thence, with Lieut. Hale, without troops, 60 miles into the country to Hump’s camp. Hump at the time was 20 miles away, and a runner was sent for him. Immediately upon hearing that Capt. Ewers was in the vicinity, he came to him, and was told that the division commander desired him to take his people away from the hostiles, and bring them to the nearest military post. He replied that “if Gen. Miles sent for him, he would do whatever was desired.” He immediately brought his people into Fort Bennett, and complied with all the orders and instructions given him, and subsequently rendered valuable service for peace. Thus an element regarded as among the most dangerous was removed. All except thirty of Hump’s following returned with him and Capt. Ewers to Fort Bennett. The remaining thirty broke away and joined Big Foot’s band, which with the addition of twenty or thirty that had escaped from Sitting Bull’s camp at Standing Rock Agency, increased his following to one hundred and sixteen warriors. Orders were then given for the arrest of this band under Big Foot, which was accomplished by the troops under Lieut. Col. Sumner on the 22d of December, 1890. Under the pretense that they (the Indians) would go to their agency at the mouth of the Cheyenne River, they, on the night of the 23d of December, eluded the troops and started south toward the Indian rendezvous in the Bad Lands, near White River, about 40 miles west of Pine Ridge Agency.

Disposition Of Troops.

While this was being done, seven companies of the Seventh Infantry, under Col. Merriam, were placed along the Cheyenne River to restrain the Indians of that reservation and intercept those from Standing Rock, which had a very salutary effect upon the Indians of “both reservations. In the mean time, a strong force had been gathered at the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Agencies. Those at the Rosebud were under the command of Lieut. Col. Poland, composed of two troops of the Ninth Cavalry and battalions of the Eighth and Twenty-first Infantry; Col. Shafter, with seven companies of the First Infantry controlled the country to the south and west of the Rosebud Agency, with station at Fort Niobrara; those at Pine Ridge Agency, under the immediate command of Gen. Brooke, were eight troops of the Seventh Cavalry, under Col. Forsyth, a battalion of the Ninth Cavalry, under Maj. Henry, a battery of the First Artillery under Capt. Capron, a company of the Eighth Infantry, and eight companies of the Second Infantry under Col. Wheaton. West from Pine Ridge Agency was stationed a garrison of two companies under Col. Tilford of the Ninth Cavalry; north of that with headquarters at Oelrichs was stationed Lieut. Col. Sanford of the Ninth Cavalry, with three troops, one each from the First, Second and Ninth Cavalry; north of that on the line of the railroad at Buffalo Gap Capt. Wells, with two troops of the Eighth Cavalry and one troop of the Fifth Cavalry was stationed; north of that on the same railroad at Rapid City Col. Carr of the Sixth Cavalry, with six troops was in command; along the south fork of the Cheyenne River Lieut. Col. Offley, and seven companies of the Seventeenth Infantry was stationed, and to the east of the latter command, Lieut. Col. Sumner, with three troops of the Eighth Cavalry, two companies of the Third Infantry, and Lieut. Robinson’s company of scouts was stationed. Small garrisons were also stationed at Forts Meade, Bennett, and Sully. Most of the force was placed in position between the large hostile camp in the Bad Lands, which had gathered under Short Bull and Kicking Bear, and the scattered settlers endangered by their presence. As the line under Col. Carr was considered the most liable to be brought in contact with the hostile force, the division commander established his temporary headquarters at Rapid City, S. Dak., where this force was in close communication, and from which their movements could be directed with the least delay.

Efforts For Peace.

Every effort was made by Gen. Brooke in command at Pine Ridge and Rosebud to create dissension in the hostile camp and to induce as many Indians as possible to return to their proper reservations. At the same time, the troops to the west formed a strong cordon which had the effect to gradually force the Indians back to the agency; the object being, if possible, to avoid conflict, although at any time from the 17th day of December, 1890, to the 15th day of January 1891, the troops could have engaged the Indians and a serious engagement would have been fought. The effect would have been to kill a large number of the Indians, costing the lives of many officers and men, and unless complete annihilation resulted, those who escaped would have preyed upon the settlements, and the result might have been a prolonged Indian war.

The fact that the Indians had lost confidence in the Government was a serious embarrassment to the military. They claimed that their lands had been taken and were then occupied by white settlers, which is true; and that they had received no positive guaranty that the terms of the treaty they had made would be carried out. In order to enable the military to win the confidence of the hostiles, the division commander sent the following telegrams:

Rapid City, S. Dak., December 19, 1890.

Senator Dawes, Washington D. C:
You may be assured of the following facts that can not be gainsaid: First. The forcing process of attempting to make large bodies of Indians self-sustaining when the Government was cutting down their rations and their crops almost a failure is one cause of the difficulty.
Second. While the Indians were urged and almost forced to sign a treaty presented to them by the commission authorized by Congress, in which they gave up a valuable portion of their reservation which is now occupied by white people, the Government has failed to fulfill its part of the compact, and instead of an increase, or even a reasonable supply for their support, they have been compelled to live on half and two-third rations and received nothing for the surrender of their lands, neither has the Government given any positive assurance that they intend to do any differently with them in the future.
Congress has been in session several weeks, and could if it were disposed in a few hours confirm the treaties that its commissioners have made with these Indians, and appropriate the necessary funds for its fulfillment and thereby give an earnest of their good faith or intention to fulfill their part of the compact.
Such action, in my judgment, is essential to restore confidence with the Indians and give peace and protection to the settlements. If this be done, and the President authorized to place the turbulent and dangerous tribes of Indians under the control of the military, Congress need not enter into details but can safely trust the military authorities to subjugate and govern and in the near future make self-sustaining any or all of the Indian tribes of this country.

Rapid City, S. Dak., Dec. 19, 1890.

Gen. John M. Schofield, Commanding the Army, Washington, D. C:
Replying to your long telegram, one point is of vital importance: the difficult Indian problem can not be solved permanently at this end of the line. It requires the fulfillment by Congress of the treaty obligations in which the Indians were entreated and coerced into signing. They signed away a valuable portion of their reservation, and it is now occupied by white people, for which they have received nothing. They understood that ample provision would be made for their support; instead, their supplies have been reduced and much of the time they have been living on half and two-thirds rations. Their crops, as well as the crops of white people, for two years have been almost a total failure. The disaffection is widespread, especially among the Sioux, while the Cheyennes have been on the verge of starvation and were forced to commit depredations to sustain life.
These facts are beyond question, and the evidence is positive and sustained by thousands of witnesses. Serious difficulty has been gathering for years. Congress has been in session several weeks and could in a single hour confirm the treaties and appropriate the necessary funds for their fulfillment, which their commissioners and the highest officials of the Government have guaranteed to these people, and unless the officers of the Army can give some positive assurance that the Government intends to act in good faith with these people the loyal element will be diminished and the hostile element increased. If the Government will give some positive assurance that it will fulfill its part of the understanding with these 20,000 Sioux Indians they can safely trust the military authorities to subjugate, control, and govern these turbulent people, and I hope that you will ask the Secretary of War and the Chief Executive to bring this matter directly to the attention of Congress.

At the same time the Indians were notified that if they complied with the orders of the military their rights and interests would be protected so far as the military were able to accomplish.

The measures taken were having a most desirable effect upon the hostiles, for it was reported in their camp that Sitting Bull and his immediate following had been killed, that Big Foot had been arrested, and that Hump had returned to his allegiance. This discouraged them, and the presence of a strong cordon of troops, gradually forcing them back to the agency without actually coming in contact with them, and the strong influences brought to bear through the aid of friendly Indians from Pine Ridge, caused them to break camp on December 27, 1890, and leave their stronghold, which was a series of natural fortifications, almost impenetrable, and move toward the agency by slow marches. The troops under Col. Carr and Lieut. Cols. Offley and Sanford were slowly following in communicating and supporting distance. In fact, the fires of the Indians were still burning in their camps behind them when the troops moved in to occupy the same grounds.

Source: United States War Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of War, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), 145-150.

About Sam Russell

I am a fifth-generation retired Army officer with twenty-nine years of commissioned service. I have been researching the frontier Army for over eighteen years and am interested in documenting the lives of the soldiers that participated in the battle of Wounded Knee using primarily official reports, diaries, letters, newspaper articles and other primary source documents. My interest in Wounded Knee stems from my kinship to one of the principal participants. I am the great-great-grandson of Samuel M. Whitside, who was a major and battalion commander at the battle. I welcome and encourage comments on posts and pages and am always interested in any new primary sources. If you have copies of letters, diaries, etc, from participants and are willing to share, please contact me. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are strictly my own, and should in no way be construed as official Army or U.S. Government positons.
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