Testimony of Captain Edward Settle Godfrey, Commander, D Troop, 7th Cavalry


I here opened fire on the Indians who had crossed the ravine, who were attempting to escape.

Captain Edward Settle Godrey, D Troop, 7th Cavalry, at Pine Ridge Agency, 16 Jan. 1891. Cropped from John C. H. Grabill's photograph, "The Fighting 7th Officers."

Captain Edward Settle Godrey, D Troop, 7th Cavalry, at Pine Ridge Agency, 16 Jan. 1891. Cropped from John C. H. Grabill’s photograph, “The Fighting 7th Officers.”

Captain Edward Settle Godfrey was forty-seven years old and had been with the 7th Cavalry since June 1867 upon graduation from West Point.  He was a battle tested veteran with a stellar reputation across the cavalry.  As a young seventeen-year-old man Godfrey, with his father’s permission, completed a three month enlistment during the Civil War in the 21st Ohio where he experienced his first combat action at Scarey Creek, Virginia.  His first decade in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, saw him participate in some forty Indian engagements including the battle of the Washita in 1868, Stanley’s expedition along the Yellowstone in 1873, Custer’s Black Hills expedition in 1874, and of course the Little Big Horn campaign of 1876 and 1877.  Godfrey commanded Company K as a first lieutenant in Captain Benteen’s battalion at the Little Big Horn and one of the few officers who received high praise from Benteen for his conduct in the hill top fight.  During the Nez Perce campaign in 1877 under the command of Colonel Nelson A. Miles, Godfrey was severely wounded at the battle of Bear Paw Mountain, action in which he eventually received a brevet for gallantry and was awarded the Medal of Honor.  Godfrey had been commanding Company D upon appointment to captain in December 1876 and still held that position fourteen years later at Wounded Knee.[1]

At the end of November when the regiment was ordered to deploy to Pine Ridge, Captain Godfrey was at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, serving as a member of the tactical board since February 1889. He applied to the War Department to join his troop in the field, and, upon approval of this application, headed to South Dakota where he rejoined the regiment the first week of December bringing with him a number of recruits designated for the 7th Cavalry.  A review of the D Troop muster roll indicates that at Pine Ridge D troop was close to its authorized strength and received only three of the new recruits.  There were four troopers that remained behind at Fort Riley, two that were ill including one non-commissioned officer, and two that were in confinement.  A fourth recruit designated for D Troop fell ill at Fort Robinson and never joined the regiment during the campaign.  Both of Godfrey’s lieutenants were on duty, but First Lieutenant William W. Robinson, Jr., who had been commanding D Troop for almost two years until Godfrey’s return, was detailed as Captain C. S. Ilsley’s acting assistant adjutant. Godfrey’s Second Lieutenant was S. R. H. “Tommy” Tompkins.  His first sergeant was German emigrant Herman Gunther, a forty-five-year-old cavalryman with over twenty-two years in the army including fifteen years in the 3rd Cavalry before transitioning to the 7th in 1884.

Being in the outer cordon at Wounded Knee, D Troop suffered only one soldier killed, Private Reinecky,  and one wounded, Wagoner York.  The following day at White Clay Creek, the troop suffered one soldier wounded, Private Kern.  The horses of D Troop fared worse with two killed and one lost at Wounded Knee and one killed and one wounded at White Clay Creek.

During Major General Miles’ investigation into Wounded Knee, Captain Godfrey was the second officer called to testify on the afternoon of 8 January.  The court asked him, “State what part you took with your Troop in the Battle with Big Foot’s Indians on December 29th, 1890.” to which he replied:

I was posted on the side of the ravine, with the ravine between myself and the Indian village.  I was under command of Captain Jackson, whose Troop was there also, and who was my senior.  The troop was deployed with intervals, and mounted about 50 yards behind the line of scouts.  Soon after the firing began, the cordon of sentinels and scouts rushed back on the line.  I told the men to fall back slowly, which they were doing, until a number of Indians from the village came up, across the ravine, onto the plateau, and the shots from the other lines at those Indians were falling among the men, and  one of the shots from the Hotchkiss gun fell near the front of the line, when I ordered the men to rally behind the hill, which was just to our left and rear, where I dismounted to fight on foot.  I here opened fire on the Indians who had crossed the ravine, who were attempting to escape.[2]

Several years later Godfrey provided additional detail of his unit’s engagement of the Indians that crossed the ravine in a professional article on cavalry fire discipline:

As soon as the Indians crossed the ravine, perhaps two hundred yards distant, and attempted to escape on the Agency road, I gave the command, “Commence firing!” I know the men did not aim deliberately and they were greatly excited. I don’t believe they saw their sights. They fired rapidly but it seemed to me only a few seconds till there was not a living thing before us; warriors, squaws, children, ponies and dogs—for they were all mixed together—went down before that unaimed fire, and I don’t think anything got nearer than a hundred yards. I believe over thirty bodies were found on our front.[3]

Continuing with his testimony, Godfrey went on to explain further actions in which he and his soldiers were engaged at Wounded Knee.  His testimony of one incident, near the White Horse Creek, would result in a subsequent investigation, and have lasting implications in Godfrey’s military career.

As soon as I forced them back or cleaned them out, I saw some going up the ravine.  I cut off about 12 men and ordered Lieut. Tompkins to take them to a point that I designated, to cover that ravine and prevent their escape by that line. I was then ordered by Major Whitside to take the balance of my Troop and make pursuit of some Indians who seemed to be going up the hillside to the westward.  After I got to the top of the Divide, I saw only one Indian mounted, who made his escape up the ravine.  I continued on to the westward to a creek, which I followed down then for the purpose of catching up any Indians who might be secreted in there.  I went over to the west of this creek, beyond the divide, to a high point from which I could see the country.  I saw no Indians from that point.  From there I scouted down the creek some distance.  Some of my men called my attention, that they saw some Indians in the creek bottom.  I dismounted some men and sent them forward, enjoining them not to shoot if they were squaws or children, and called out “How cola,” which means friend.  They, the Indians, made no reply, and the men, as soon as they got a glimpse of the Indians through the brush, fired about six shots.  I heard the wailing of a child, and stopped the firing as quickly as possible.  My men had killed one boy about 16 or 17 years old, a squaw and two children. Then I took up the scout down the creek, and then turned back to the camp.  On my way back I saw a Troop on the Divide at the head of the ravine that led from camp, and I turned to where it was and found Captain Jackson, with his Troop and a number of Indian prisoners.  I remained with him a little while, and at this suggestion made a detail to scout down the ravine dismounted, and I was going along on the ridge with the rest of my men to support them in case of necessity.  As I was just about to start, we saw a number of Indians congregating on a hill some distance off in the direction of the agency road, between us and the agency.  We were wondering who they were, when they started towards us.  Several, I don’t remember how many, perhaps 4 or 5, came up, said “How cola,” shook hands and seemed a good deal excited; one came up to me, shook hands and gave a pretty hard pull, as I have thought since, tried to pull me off my horse.  A young Indian was standing there who I took to be one of our scouts or an Indian policeman.  He had been there some little time before the others came up.  He said in English “This is my father.”  I asked him what his father meant; he said he did not know.  Then Captain Jackson called my attention to the other Indians deploying and advancing very rapidly.  I thought they numbered 50 or 60.  His lead horses were between our men and the advancing Indians, whose intentions we yet did not know; we were getting these horses back of the line when these Indians opened fire, wounding one of my men [Wagoner George York].  We returned fire, and Captain Jackson said that we would fall back, which we did.  The Indians made no effort to follow us up.  Soon two other troops came up to us from the battle field, and all returned to the main command.  We thought the Indians described were agency Indians; they were evidently strangers to the prisoners, whom we abandoned.  I saw no wanton destruction of non-combatants, none that could be helped, in my opinion.  I told the men throughout the day not to fire on women or children.  Although the Indians that we saw of the Big Foot band were at times about 200 yards off, we could not discern the distinction between bucks and squaws, and firing came from the parties.  No firing took place on the part of my men when other of our troops were between us and the Indians.  The prisoners that were abandoned had surrendered to Captain Jackson.  The number I do not know except from hearsay.  I know that there were five warriors, two of whom were badly wounded, and I was told the rest were so also; the rest were squaws and children, some of whom were wounded.[4]

Captain Godfrey and four of his troopers became the subject of further investigation into the killing of an Indian mother and her three children, an incident that he would later dub a tragedy at White Horse Creek.

Endnotes

[1] USMA AOG, Sixty-third Annual Report of the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, June 9, 1932, 59-68.
[2] Jacob F. Kent and Frank D. Baldwin, “Report of Investigation into the Battle at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, Fought December 29th 1890,” 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, 676.
[3] Edward S. Godfrey, “Cavalry Fire Discipline,” Journal of Military Service Institution of the United States, Volume XIX,” (Governor’s Island: Military Service Institution, 1896), 259.
[4] Kent and Baldwin Investigation, 676-679.
Note: This essay, originally published on 4 May 2014, included details of the investigation into the tragedy at White Horse Creek.  Those details were removed from this essay on 14 Jan 2017 and added to the post “Investigation of the White Horse Creek Tragedy.”

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Testimony of Captain Edward Settle Godfrey, Commander, D Troop, 7th Cavalry,” Army at Wounded Knee (Sumter, SC: Russell Martial Research, 2013-2014, http://wp.me/p3NoJy-rp), updated 14 Jan 2017, accessed ______.

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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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2 Responses to Testimony of Captain Edward Settle Godfrey, Commander, D Troop, 7th Cavalry

  1. Kenneth W. Pratt says:

    My grandfather was a private in the 7th. Cav Troop D at White ClayCreek. Dec of 1890-91,

    Like

    • Sam Russell says:

      Following is the muster roll entry for Pvt James W. Pratt:

      Private Pratt, James W.: Enlisted on July 30, 1890 at St Louis, Mo. by Capt. Kauffman.  Assigned to Troop D, 7th Cav. per Paragraph. I Order #88, Headquarters , 7th Cav. Dec. 6, 90 to date from Nov. 28, 90. Joined Troop Dec. 6, 90. First enlistment. Due U.S. Laundry fifty-eight (58) cents. $4. per month retained General Order 85, Adjutant General’s Office 90.

      Like

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