1891 Annual Report of Major General Miles – Part 4


Major General Nelson A. Miles concluded his annual report of 1891 by detailing the affairs at Wounded Knee and Drexel Mission, the effect those two incidents had on the overall campaign, and the eventual surrender of all the hostile Indians.  His narrative of the two affairs, and in particular the Mission fight, would in subsequent years draw ire from James W. Forsyth and prompt him to write the Secretary of War and correct the record.  I will post more on Forsyth’s letters later, but now, here is the final part of General Miles annual report to Secretary of War Redfield Proctor.

Wounded Knee Creek Affair.

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.

Although the camp of Big Foot had escaped the troops on the Cheyenne River, the troops on the south were moved so as to prevent him joining the hostile element, and orders were given to the troops under Col. Carr and Gen. Brooke not only to intercept the movement of Big Foot and party but to cause their arrest. This was accomplished by Maj. Whitside on the 28th day of December, 1890, who met Big Foot 1 ½ miles west of Porcupine Creek and demanded his surrender. The band submitted to it without resistance and moved with the troops 7 miles, where they were directed to camp, which they did in such position as the commanding officer directed. In order that no mistake might be made, and to have sufficient troops on the ground in case of resistance, Col. Forsyth was ordered by Gen. Brooke to join Maj. Whitside with four troops of cavalry, which, with the company of scouts under Lieut. Taylor, made up a force of eight troops of cavalry, one company of scouts, and four pieces of light artillery, a force of 470 fighting men as against 106 warriors then present in Big Foot’s band. A scouting party of Big Foot’s band was out looking for the hostile camp of Short Bull and Kicking Bear, but as they (Short Bull and Kicking Bear) had been started from the Bad Lands and were moving into Pine Ridge Agency they were returning to Big Foot’s band when the fight occurred on the morning of the 29th of December, 1890.

Lieut. S. A. Cloman's map of Wounded Knee depicting the scene of the fight with Big Foot's Band, Dec. 29th 1890.

Lieut. S. A. Cloman’s map of Wounded Knee depicting the scene of the fight with Big Foot’s Band, Dec. 29th 1890.

It was the intention to order Big Foot’s band to the railroad and then send it back to the reservation where it belonged, or out of the country for a time, in order to separate it from the other Indians. As they had not been within a long distance of the hostile camp in the Bad Lands it was deemed advisable to keep them as far away as possible from it.

The unfortunate affair at Wounded Knee Creek December 29, 1890, in which 30 officers and soldiers and 200 Indians (men, women, and children) were killed or mortally wounded, prolonged the disturbance and made a successful termination more difficult.

A number of the Indians that had remained peaceable at the Pine Ridge Agency became greatly alarmed on learning what had befallen the band of Big Foot, and some of the young warriors went to their assistance. These, on returning with the intelligence of what had occurred, caused a general alarm, which resulted in some 3,000 leaving the camps located about the agency to join the hostiles and assume a threatening attitude.

The Indians from the Bad Lands, under Short Bull and Kicking Bear, would have camped that night (December 29) within 4 miles of the agency, but on hearing the news of the Big Foot disaster turned back and assumed a hostile attitude on White Clay Creek about 17 miles from the Pine Ridge Agency. Thus, instead of the hostile camp under Short Bull and Kicking Bear camping within a short distance of the agency, the next day, the 30th of December, found the hostile camp augmented to nearly 4,000, and embracing more than a thousand warriors.

Affair At The Mission.

On December 30 a small band of Indians came near the Catholic Mission, 4 miles from the military camp at Pine Ridge, and set fire to one of the small buildings. Col. Forsyth, with eight troops of the Seventh Cavalry and one piece of artillery, was ordered by Gen. Brooke to go out and drive them away. He moved out, the Indians falling back before his command with some skirmishing between the two parties, until they had proceeded 6 miles from the camp at Pine Ridge. There the command halted without occupying the commanding hills, and was surrounded by the small force of Indians. Skirmishing between the two parties followed. Col. Forsyth sent back three times for reinforcements, and fortunately Maj. Henry, with four troops of the Ninth Cavalry and one Hotchkiss gun, was in the vicinity, and moved at once at the sound of the guns. Upon arriving on the ground he made proper disposition of his troops by occupying the adjacent hills and drove the Indians away without casualty, thereby rescuing the Seventh Cavalry from its perilous position. The Seventh Cavalry lost one officer (Lieut. Mann, mortally wounded) and one private killed and several wounded.

From all information that could be obtained the Indians engaged in this affair did not number more than 60 or 70 young warriors. For his conduct on that day and the previous day Col. Forsyth was relieved from command.

Result And Other Affairs.

These two affairs, namely, at Wounded Knee and what is known as the Mission fight, seriously complicated the situation and increased the difficulty of suppressing the outbreak. On the evening of the 28th of December everything indicated a settlement without a serious loss of life. The result may be summed up in the loss of nearly 200 people, delay in bringing the Indians to terms, and caused 3,000 Indians to be thrown into a condition of hostility with a spirit of animosity, hatred, and revenge. The spirit thus engendered made it more difficult to force back, or restore the confidence of the Indians, and for a time it looked as if the difficulty would be insurmountable.

On December 30,1890, the wagon train of the Ninth Cavalry was attacked by Indians and was repulsed by the troops guarding it. On January 3, 1891, an attack was made upon Capt. Kerr’s troop of the Sixth Cavalry, then in position between Col. Carr and Lieut. Col. Offley, and quickly and handsomely repulsed by that officer and his troop, aided by the prompt support of Maj. Topper’s battalion, followed by Col. Carr. These repulses had a tendency to check the westward movements of the Indians and to hold them in position along White Clay Creek until their intense animosity had to some extent subsided.

Realizing the importance of restoring confidence to those who were not disposed to assume hostilities, the division commander changed positions with Gen. Brooke and directed him to assume the immediate command of the troops encircling the hostile camp, and took station at Pine Ridge, where he could not only communicate directly with the camp but exercise a general supervision over all the commands.

Having a personal knowledge extending over many years of those Indians, most of whose prominent leaders, including Broad Trail, Little Hawk, Kicking Bear, and Short Bull, had surrendered to me on the Yellowstone ten years before, I was enabled to bring them to reason and restore confidence.

Fortunately, Congress appropriated funds necessary for complying with the obligations of the Sioux treaty, and the division commander was enabled to assure the Indians that the Government would respect their rights and necessities.

Messengers were immediately sent representing to them the injudicious policy of contending against the authorities, and assuring them that there was only one safe road, and that was toward the agency, to surrender. They were also advised that the powerful commands were so distributed in the immediate vicinity of their camps and at the most important points as to intercept them should they break through the line, but if they would comply with the directions of the division commander, they would be assured of his support in order to obtain their rights and privileges under their treaties with the Government. They were also informed at the same time that unnecessary acts of violence were disapproved by the authorities; and they must decide whether the military should be their friend or their enemy.

While the troops were exercising the utmost vigilance and constant care in inclosing the large camp of Indians, leaving as far as practicable no outlet for them to escape and steadily pressing them back toward Pine Ridge Agency, every effort was made to restore their confidence and compel them to return to their agencies. Fortunately at that time a change had been made in the administration of their affairs. Their supplies of food had been increased and properly distributed, and officers in whom they had confidence, and whom they had known for years, were placed in charge. Capt. Hurst was given general supervision at the Cheyenne River Agency; Capt. Lee at Rosebud Agency; Capt. Ewers was placed in charge of the Cheyennes, and Capts. Pierce and Dougherty in charge of Pine Ridge. Subsequently, Capt. Penney was appointed as acting Indian agent at Pine Ridge.

The Surrender.

Under these circumstances, with the assurance of good faith at the agencies and from the Government, and held by strong cordon of troops encircling them, they were gradually pressed back to the agency, and on the 15th of January, moved up White Clay Creek and encamped within easy range of the guns of the large command, under Col. Shaffer, stationed at Pine Ridge, the troops under Gen. Brooke following immediately behind them, almost pushing them out of their camps. On the next day they moved farther in and encamped under the guns of the entire command and surrendered their entire force of nearly 4,000 people. The troops were moved into three strong camps of easy communication, occupying the three points of a triangle, with the Indian camp in the center in close proximity to the troops.

While in this position they surrendered nearly 200 rifles, and were complying with every order and instruction given them; yet the information that was frequently received at the time of the finding of the bodies of Indians (men, women, and children) scattered over the prairies, and their knowledge of the number in the hospitals, the wounded in the Indian camp, and the other casualties that had occurred to them, caused a feeling of great distress and animosity throughout the Indian camp. Yet sufficient arms had been surrendered to show their good faith. These arms, together with what had been taken at other places, viz, in the Wounded Knee affair and at the Cheyenne and Standing Rock Reservation, aggregated in all between 600 and 700 guns; more than the Sioux Indians had ever surrendered at any one time before. This was a sufficient guaranty of good faith; but in order to make it doubly sure, and as they had agreed to comply with every direction given them by the division commander, they were informed that he required the persons of Kicking Bear and Short Bull, the two leaders of the hostiles, and at least twenty other warriors of the same class. As they had agreed to comply with every order given them, these men came forward and volunteered to go as hostages for the good faith of their people and as an earnest of their disposition to maintain peace in the future. These men were placed in wagons and sent 26 miles to the railroad, and thence by rail to Fort Sheridan, Ill., where it was the purpose ot the division commander to retain them until such time as it might be necessary to guarantee a permanent peace.

Knowing the Indians had well founded grievances, he requested authority to send 10 men representing the different elements of the Sioux Nation, and chiefly the loyal and well-disposed portion, to Washington, D. C., to enable them to represent their affairs to the authorities, and to tell their own story. This party included some of the best and wisest counselors, the ablest and most loyal friends of the Government living upon the Sioux reservations.

Thus ended what at one time threatened to be a serious Indian war, and the frontier was again assured of peace and safety from Indians who a few weeks prior had been a terror to all persons living in that sparsely populated country. Too much credit cannot be given the troops, who endured the hardships aud sustained the honor, character, and integrity of the service, risking their lives in their effort to restore peace and tranquillity, placing themselves between a most threatening body of savages and the unprotected settlements of the frontier in such a way as to avoid the loss of a single life of any of the settlers and establishing peace in that country with the least possible delay. In fact the time consumed in solving the most difficult problem was remarkably brief, it being but fourteen days from the time Sitting Bull was arrested to the time the Indians were moving in to surrender, and would have encamped within 4 miles of the agency had not the disaster at Wounded Knee occurred. Notwithstanding this unfortunate affair, the time occupied was only thirty-two days from the time of the arrest of Sitting Bull until the whole camp of four thousand Indians surrendered at Pine Ridge, S. Dak.

Return Of Indians To Reservations.

The Brules, the most turbulent of the hostile element, were taken by Capt. Lee (in whom they had great confidence and had great reason to respect on account of his thorough justice in the management of their affairs years previously) across the country to the Rosebud Agency, to which they belonged, without escort and during the most intense cold of the winter.

The Cheyenne Indians, who but a few weeks before were regarded as a most dangerous band, were taken by Capt. Ewers, in whom they had not only confidence and respect, but absolute affection, to the north, on one of the most perilous and difficult journeys ever accomplished in this country, a distance of about 300 miles from Pine Ridge, S. Dak., to the mouth of Tongue River, in Montana, traveling in the intense cold of winter in that desolate country, the ground covered in many places with several feet of snow, and this without an escort of troops. They finally reached Fort Keogh without a single loss of life or without an Indian committing; a single unlawful act duriug that long and perilous journey.

During the time of intense excitement, when it seemed that a serious outbreak was imminent, the governors of Nebraska and South Dakota placed troops along the line of settlements, which gave confidence to the settlers and additional protection to those exposed positions.

Although the campaign was short, it was not without serious loss. Two excellent officers were killed and one “mortally wounded. Capt. George D. Wallace, Seventh Cavalry, was killed at Wounded Knee Creek, December 29, 1890, and First Lieut. Edward W. Casey, Twenty-second Infantry, a gallant young officer of great promise, was killed January 7, 1891, near Pine Ridge, while making a reconnaissance. First Lieut. James D. Mann, Seventh Cavalry, was mortally wounded at White Clay Creek, December 30, 1890; First Lieut. Ernest A. Garlington and John C. Gresharn, Seventh Cavalry, and John C. Kinzie, Second Infantry, and Second Lieut. Harry L. Hawthorne, Second Artillery, were wounded at Wounded Knee Creek, December 29, 1890. Twenty-eight gallant soldiers were also killed and 38 wounded in the various skirmishes and affairs, some of whom have since died.

End Of The Campaign.

The troops participating in the campaign were immediately returned to their proper stations; the force at Pine Ridge was gradually reduced; Capt. Pierce, the acting Indian agent at Pine Ridge, was relieved on account of sickness by Capt. Dougherty, in turn relieved at his own request and Capt. Penney appointed. The latter has administered the affairs of that agency with great ability. Additional appropriations have been given for the support of the Indians, and they now receive nearly one-half as much more than they received a year ago.

Notwithstanding the fact that the “volcano has cooled down” the fires of discord still remain. Even while the hostages were at Fort Sheridan they received communications from their friends in the Sioux camps stating that they had not given up the conspiracy of one grand uprising of the Indians, and that the Utes were ready to join the Sioux whenever they were ready to resume hostilities. Communications have been discovered going between the different camps inciting the Indians to hostility, and even now, while this communication is being written, there is a delegation from the Indian Territory absent, ostensibly to visit relatives at the Arapahoe and Shoshone reservations in Wyoming. They have, in fact, gone across the mountains, and are now in the abodes of the supporters of the Messiah delusion near Pyramid Lake, in Nevada.

During the months following the serious disturbance of the peace, the confidence of all has been restored. Many of the settlers have gone back to their abandoned homes and ranches, and the Indians have resumed their accustomed occupations.

Advantage was taken of the return of troops to locate them in regimental posts, giving regiments to Fort Snelling, Minn.; Fort Keogh, Mont.; Fort Assinniboine, Mont.; Fort Douglas, Utah; Fort Omaha, Nebr.; Fort D. A. Russell, Wyo.; and Fort Sheridan, Ill.; and very strong garrisons of troops at Forts Meade, Niobrara, and Robinson.

Nothing of importance has occurred since the undersigned assumed command of the Department of the Missouri which requires special mention in this report. The affairs of the Indian Territory are gradually adjusting themselves after being in a state of transition for a long time. The days of large holdings of land by the Indians in common will eventually cease and the Indians take up lands in severalty.


Source: United States War Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of War, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), 150-155.
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About Sam Russell

I am a fifth-generation Army officer with over twenty-eight years of commissioned service. I have been researching the frontier Army for over fifteen 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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