The fearless action of Captain Fechet and his command entitles them to great credit and the celerity of his movements showed the true soldierly spirit.
–Major General Nelson A. Miles
125 years ago today Captain Edmond Gustave Fechét rode to the sounds of the guns in support of the Indian police at the Standing Rock Agency who were attempting to arrest Sitting Bull. At forty-six years of age he was the senior captain in the 8th U.S. Cavalry and commanding a battalion of two troops of that regiment. Of the sixty-five officers and soldiers from the campaign recognized with medals, certificates of merit, or honorable mention, Captain Fechét’s actions, in the eyes of the commanding general of the Army, did not merit such accolades.
On 14 December 1890 Colonel William F. Drum, through the post adjutant at Fort Yates, North Dakota, issued in part the following order:
Captain E. G. Fechet, 8th Cavalry, will proceed with Troops F and G, 8th Cavalry, the Hotchkiss gun, and one Gatling gun to the crossing of Oak Creek by the Sitting Bull road, for the purpose of preventing the escape or rescue of Sitting Bull, should the Indian police succeed in arresting him.
The command will move out at 12 o’clock midnight, in light marching order, and will be supplied with 50 rounds of carbine and 12 rounds of revolver ammunition per man, 4,000 rounds of ammunition for Gattling [sic] gun, 25 rounds for Hotchkiss gun, cooked rations, and one day’s forage.
After receiving the prisoner Captain Fechet will return with his command to this Post, reporting to the Commanding Officer on arrival.
If, at arrival on Oak Creek, Captain Fechet learns that the police are fighting or need assistance, he will push on, and, if necessary, follow Sitting Bull as long as possible with his supplies, keeping the Post Commander informed by courier of his movements.
The march will be so regulated as to reach Oak Creek by 6:30 o’clock a.m. to-morrow, the 15th instant. Should arrest be made, every precaution will be taken to prevent escape or rescue.
Word of the fight with Sitting Bull on the morning of 15 December 1890 came into General Thomas H. Ruger’s department headquarters at Saint Paul, Minnesota, where Major General Nelson A. Miles, commander of the Division of Missouri, was temporarily located. Before departing that same day for Fort Meade and Rapid City, South Dakota, General Miles forwarded the following telegram to the Adjutant General’s Office in Washington, D.C.
Commanding Officer at Ft. Yates telegrams to Genl. Ruger as follows:
Courier just in from Capt. Fechet reports cavalry within three miles of Sitting Bull’s camp and pushing on. Indian police had arrested Sitting Bull about daylight, when Sitting Bull’s friends attempted to rescue him. Sitting Bull was reported killed at once, and fight became general. A number of the best policemen are reported killed, and probably a number of the others. The courier who brought the word was in the fight, saw Sitting Bull on the ground, and is sure he is dead. Policemen reported nearly out of ammunition, but cavalry undoubtedly reached them within half an hour after receiving the word. There are one hundred cavalrymen with one Hotchkiss and one Gatling gun commanded by Capt. Fechet. I will move out with two companies of infantry this afternoon as far as Oak Creek, leaving Capt. Miner with his company to guard the post.
Information was rec’d that Sitting Bull was preparing to leave, and orders had been given to secure his person.
General Miles followed up with a second telegram later that afternoon.
Captain Fechet arrived in good time at scene of Indian fight; drove the Indians away, also had surrounded Indian police. He reports Sitting Bull, his son Black-bird, and Catch Bear and four others killed; also seven Police killed. He reports he has body of Sitting Bull. I go to Meade tonight.
Two days later Captain Fechét filed his official report at Fort Yates detailing his battalion’s role during that day.
The command moved out at midnight December the 14th, and by rapid marching was by daylight within three miles of Sitting Bull’s camp, which is fully from forty-one to forty-two miles from Fort Yates. After daybreak I expected every minute to meet the Indian police with Sitting Bull their prisoner, it having been arranged by Major McLaughlin, Indian Agent, that they would make a descent on Bull’s camp about daybreak, arresting Bull and delivering him to me for conduct to this Post. It will be seen by reference to the first paragraph of the order that the command was to proceed only to the crossing of Oak River, which was eighteen miles from Bull’s camp. After receiving this order, on consultation with Colonel Drum, commanding the Post, it was decided that I should move as close to Bull’s camp as possible without discovery, and there await the police. A short time after dawn a mounted man was discovered approaching rapidly. This proved to be one of the police, who reported that all the other police had been killed. The substance of his report, with the additional statement that I should move rapidly and endeavor to relieve any of the police who might be alive, I forwarded to the Commanding Officer.
The command was at once put into condition for immediate action. A light but extended line of skirmishers was thrown in advance; the main body was disposed in two columns, in column of fours, about 300 yards, apart, the artillery between the heads of columns. A few minutes after making these dispositions another of the police came in and reported that Bull’s people had a number of the police penned up in his house. The command was moved with all speed to a point on the high lands overlooking the valley of Grand River, and immediately opposite Sitting Bull’s house and the camp of the ghost dancers, distance some 1,500 yards.
A hasty examination showed a party of Indians, apparently forty or fifty, on a high point on our right front, some 900 yards distant, but whether a party of police and friends or Bull’s people could not be determined. While trying to make out the position and identity of the two parties there were a few shots fired by the party on the hill, and replied to from Sitting Bull’s house. There was also firing from the woods beyond Bull’s house, but on whom directed it was impossible to tell. I caused a white flag to be erected on the crest where I was located (a prearranged signal between the soldiers and the police), and directed a few shots to be fired from the Hotchkiss into the woods mentioned. In answer a white flag was displayed from Bull’s house, and Indians were seen leaving the woods going in the direction of the hills to the south, across Grand River. The Hotchkiss gun was then turned upon the party on our right front; this, with some fire from a dismounted line of F Troop, caused them to retreat rapidly from their position up the valley of Grand River to the northwest.
Lieutenant Slocum, with his troop dismounted, was ordered to advance immediately upon the house. Lieutenant Crowder, with G Troop mounted, moved rapidly to the right along the highlands, covering the right flank of the dismounted line. As the dismounted line approached the house the police came out and joined the command. The line was advanced through the timber, dislodging a few hostiles, who disappeared rapidly up the river through the willows. This line, after advancing through the willows some 600 yards, fell back to the immediate vicinity of Sitting Bull’s house, leaving pickets at the farthest points gained by the advance.
Lieutenant Crowder, in the meantime, observing the Indians gathering at houses up the river about two miles from Bull’s camp, moved in pursuit of them. The Indians fell back from every point upon the approach of the troops, not showing any desire to engage in hostile actions against the soldiers. All the houses for a distance of about two miles were examined, and all were found deserted, but showed signs of recent occupation. Failing to come up with the Indians in this direction, G Troop fell back and joined the main command at Sitting Bull’s lodge.
Upon arriving at this place I found evidence of a most desperate encounter between the Agency police and Sitting Bull’s followers. In the vicinity of the house, within a radius of fifty yards, there were found the dead bodies of eight hostiles, including Sitting Bull. Two horses were also killed. Within the house were found four dead and three wounded policemen. It was learned through the interpreter that the hostile Indians had carried away with them one of their dead and five or six wounded, making an approximate total of fifteen casualties in Sitting Bulls’ band….
From the best evidence obtainable I am led to believe that the police, under the command of Bull Head and Shave Head, about forty strong, entered Sitting Bull’s camp about 5:50 a.m. on the 15th instant, for the purpose of making the arrest of Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull was taken from his house, and while the police were parleying with him, endeavoring to induce him to submit peacefully, Bull Head was shot by Catch the Bear in the leg. Bull Head immediately shot and killed Sitting Bull, when the melee became general, with the results heretofore given. The fight lasted but a few moments, when the police secured the house and stable adjoining, driving Sitting Bull’s men from the village to cover in the adjoining woods and hills. From these positions the fight was kept up until about 7:30 a.m., when the troops came up. I learn that soon after the occupation of the house and stable by the police volunteers were called for to carry a report of the situation back to the approaching troops. Hawk Man offered to perform this perilous service, and at the imminent risk of his life, assisted by Red Tomahawk, he effected his escape, being shot through his coat and gloves while engaged in the attempt. This was the first scout met by the command.
My orders were explicit as to the arrest of Sitting Bull, but contemplated no pursuit of his band. I therefore did not feel authorized, to follow the Indians up the valley, especially as I felt satisfied, from the report of Lieutenant Crowder, that it would only result, unnecessarily, in frightening peaceful Indians away from their homes, and that the withdrawal of the troops, together with the message I communicated to the Indians to the effect that only the capture of Sitting Bull was desired, would tend to reassure those who were loyally disposed toward their Agent.
Accordingly I gave orders for the command to withdraw to Oak Creek, of which the Commanding Officer was informed by courier, with the request that he communicate his further orders to me at that point. Previous to leaving, word was sent up and down the valley to the friendly Indians of this movement, in order that they might avail themselves of the protection of the troops in their withdrawal to the Agency, which they did in considerable numbers. All the dead Indian police, together with their wounded and the body of Sitting Bull, were brought in by me.
Upon reaching Oak Creek, at 6 p.m., I was met by a courier, who informed me that the Commanding Officer of Fort Yates, with two companies of infantry and ten days’ supplies, would reach Oak Creek some time in the night. Upon their arrival at 12 o’clock I turned over the command.
After reading Captain Fechét’s report, General Miles, through his aide, followed up with his immediate subordinate, General Ruger, on 27 December 1890 with a letter of approval mentioning specifically the bravery and courage of Fechét and his men.
Sir: The Division Commander has received the official report of Lieut. Colonel Drum, 12th Infantry and Captain Fechet, 8th Cavalry, regarding the arrest of Sitting Bull. He desires me to express his approval of the good judgement [sic] displayed by the officers and the assistance of the Agent, the fortitude of the troops and bravery of the Indian Police. It required no ordinary courage to go into an Indian Camp of well armed warriors and arrest the chief conspiration on the eve of his departure to join the large body of his following then in defiant hostility to the Government and engaged in robbing its citizens and looting their houses.
It was from Sitting Bull that emissaries have been for months going to other tribes inciting them to hostility and he died while resisting the lawful officials of the Government.
Even after he had been peaceably arrested he raised the cry of revolt and incited his men to shoot down the Government police in lawful discharge of their duty. The fearless action of Captain Fechet and his command entitles them to great credit and the celerity of his movements showed the true soldierly spirit.
The Division Commander desires that his sympathy be expressed to those who have suffered from wounds and the families of the dead brave, loyal, Indian Police, and his thanks to all who took part in this arrest that has already resulted in the surrender of more than one hundred difiant [sic] lawless savages, and with other measures, has done much to prevent the distruction [sic] of many peacable [sic] homes and innocent lives.
By command of Major General Miles: [signed] M. P. Maus, 1st Lieut. 1st Infantry, Aide-de-Camp.
Later that same day General Ruger’s adjutant at Saint Paul forwarded General Miles’s note to Colonel Drum along with the following message that intimated the department commander would follow up later with additional accolades.
Sir: I am directed by the Department Commander to transmit you an official copy of a telegram received to-day from the Division Commander expressing his appreciation of your services and the services of those associated with you in the events of the 15th instant connected with the arrest of Sitting Bull on the Standing Rock Reservation; he also directs me to add that he has not been unmindful himself of the good conduct of the officers and troops, as well as of the commendable action of Indian Agent McLaughlin in connection with those events and of the noteworthy courage and loyalty shown by the Indian Police of Standing Rock Agency.
It has been, and and [sic] still is, the intention of the Department Commander to express his proper recognition at a future time and to convey such expressions of deserved commendation as are due to the services of those also who are engaged at other places in important duties arising from the present troubles with the Sioux.
Very respectfully, Your obedient servant, [signed] M. Barber, Assistant Adjutant General.
A year later Major General John M. Schofield, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, issued General Order no. 100 in which he commended officers and soldiers from the Sioux campaign the previous winter. Over sixty men were commended, but absent from the list was any mention of Captain Fechét, or anyone from his command relating to their actions on 15 December 1890 surrounding the arrest and death of Sitting Bull. Based on newspaper coverage at the time the public at large was well familiar with the events surrounding the famous war chief’s demise, and the slight to Captain Fechét did not go unnoticed. The Omaha Bee published the following on 30 December 1891:
The roll of honor which has recently been published exalts some officers who did not fire a shot at the enemy and others who were not even exposed to the inclemency of the Dakota blizzard. In military circles it is regarded as absurd because of the conspicuous slight put upon such brave officers as Captain E. G. Fechét of the Eighth cavalry, who rescued the Indian police from certain death at the Sitting Bull fight…
The slight also did not go unnoticed in military circles. Brigadier General Wesley Merritt had taken over command of the Department of Dakota earlier that year when the Adjutant General of the Army was seeking recommendations for honorable mention. That office spent months compiling names and verifying details of acts of gallantry, heroism, and fortitude for honorable mention. General Merritt was certain that Fechét was overlooked due to the change in department commanders. However, both Drum and Fechét’s names were recommended earlier that Fall with the proposed citation reading, “For meritorious services connected with the final arrest of Sitting Bull near Grand River, N.D.” On 9 November 1891 Assistant Adjutant General Samuel Breck scrawled on the recommendation, “Submitted to the Major Genl Comdg who thinks this is hardly a case for hon. men. in orders and rules it out.”
Soon after the release of General Order 100 on 17 December, Colonel Drum at Fort Yates wrote to his new superior, General Merritt, on 29 December 1891.
Sir: Referring to General Orders Number 100, current series, Adjutant General’s Office, I have the honor most respectfully to invite the attention of the proper authorities to so much of the enclosed papers as refer to Major E. G. Fechet, 6th Cavalry (then Captain 8th Cavalry).
Major Fechet’s conduct, at the time of the arrest of Sitting Bull, and in fact all through the campaign of last winter, was most admirable.
The conduct of all the officers and men of this command was excellent during that campaign but the service of Major Fechet was particularly recognized by the Division and Department Commanders.
I may be permitted to add that nothing does so much to encourage officers and men and adds to their self-respect as to be mentioned in orders for good conduct.
Certain that the change in general officers was the cause of overlooking Captain Fechét, General Merritt provided the following endorsement on 13 January 1892.
Respectfully forwarded to the Adjutant General, U.S. Army, for the consideration of the proper authority. I agree most fully with Colonel Drum that nothing does so much to encourage officers and men, as to be mentioned in orders for good conduct, and may without impropriety add, that to omit some when others are mentioned in orders, who perhaps do not more deserve the recognition, is discouraging to those neglected. I have no question that the omission to mention especially the officers deserving recognition for their part in the capture of Sitting Bull, resulted from a change of Department Commanders before the reports for the year were made.
I am anxious to do all in my power to remedy any responsibility which rests with me in the premises and I feel quite sure that my predecessor in command in this Department will be actuated by a like feeling if these papers are referred to him.
I have the honor to recommend that Lieut. Colonel Drum, Captain Fechét, and the officers and men of their commands be commended in orders from the War Department for their energy, good judgement [sic], fortitude and courage in executing the orders of their Department Commander.
Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Breck of the Adjutant General’s Office forwarded the recommendation to General Ruger, then commanding the Department of California, who responded on 28 January 1891. Included with Colonel Drum’s recommedation and General Merritt’s endorsement were extracts from the annual reports of Generals Miles, Ruger, and Merrit. While General Ruger had been one of the first to commend Captain Fechét for his actions of 15 December 1890, the General’s endorsement a year later likely ensured that Fechét would not receive any further commendation.
The position occupied by and duties falling to the lot of Lieutenant Colonel Drum and the officers and soldiers of the command at Fort Yates, during the Sioux troubles of last year, were very important. The fact that quiet prevailed on the reservation, with the exception of the Sitting Bull incident, and after that occurred at no time was there much reason to fear disorder, had very favorable effect upon the Indians of other reservations. The good judgment and action of the Commanding Officer and the energy shown by all in carrying out instructions received contributed much to the comparatively good state of things on the Standing Rock Reservation. No individual act, so far as I know, was, performed calling for extraordinary courage, but I am of opinion that General Merritt states correctly that Col. Drum, Major (then Captain) Fechét and other officers and the men of their commands are deserving of commendation for energy, good judgment and courage in the performance of duty. [signed] Thos. H. Ruger, Brigadier General, Commanding.
Based on this recommendation General Schofield decided that Captain Fechét’s actions were, “not quite up to the standard for hon. men. but is a case for a good complementary letter.” The Adjutant General’s Office followed up with the following letter of commendation.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Adjutant General’s Office,
Washington, February 27, 1892.
To the Commanding General, Department of Dakota, St. Paul, Minn.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your endorsement of January 13th last, regarding the operations attending the final arrest of Sitting Bull, December 15, 1890, commending the conduct of Lieut. Col. W. F. Drum, 12th Infantry, commanding Fort Yates, N.D., Major E. G. Fechét, 6th Cavalry, (then Captain, 8th Cavy.) and the officers and men of their commands, Troops F and G, 8th Cavy., companies H and G, 12th Infantry, and company G, 22nd Infantry, for their energy, good judgment, fortitude and courage in executing the orders of their Department Commander. Following an intimation in your endorsement these papers were referred to Brigadier General T. H. Ruger, U.S.A., who commanded the Department of Dakota when the occurrences took place; he unites with you in commending the officers and troops named for their service on this occasion in nearly the same language used by yourself.
The Major General Commanding directs me to say in reply that while the service performed in these operations does not appear to have been of such a nature as to come within the limits he has fixed for mention in orders, yet he wishes Lieut. Col. Drum, Major Fechét and the officers and men of their commands to understand that he appreciates and commends the good judgment, energy and courage shown by them on this occasion; the soldierly conduct of this command also contributed much to the comparatively good state of things on the Standing Rock Reservation during the Sioux troubles at that time.
Very respectfully, [signed] J. C. Kelton, Adjutant General.
Official copy to: Major E. G. Fechét, 6 Cav., thru Comdg Genl Dept of the Platte, Comdg Genl Dept of the Mo, and Brig Genl T. H. Ruger, U.S.A. “for his information.”
The Adjutant General’s letter of commendation was routed through General Miles, who was then commanding the Department of the Missouri. General Miles was seemingly unaware that Captain Fechét had been overlooked in General Order 100 and deeply chagrined that such actions did not receive honorable mention. The general had praised Fechét in his annual report, “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.” General Miles added his own letter in April 1892 again recommending honorable mention of Fechét.
Sir: Referring to your letter of February 27, 1892, to the Commanding General Department of Dakota, (Official copy furnished me) I have the honor to specially recommend for mention in orders Major E. G. Fechét, 6th Cavalry (then Captain 8th Cavalry) for the energy, skill and gallantry displayed by him December 14, 1891 [sic], upon the occasion of the arrest and death of Sitting Bull and the fight that resulted therefrom.
The “good judgment energy and courage” shown by the detachment commanded by Major Fechét upon that occasion have been spoken of in terms of high commendation by the Major General Commanding the Army, and it would seem fitting that the Commanding Officer to whom the chief credit therefor [sic] is due should receive special mention in orders, and I so recommend.
Again, Samuel Breck of the Adjutant General’s Office provided the following endorsement five days later, “This was submitted to Maj. Genl. Schofield [who] decided to take no action on this case at present.” The recommendation for honorable mention of Captain Fechét, or any soldier associated with arrest and death of Sitting Bull, languished for months until 17 February 1893 when Lieutenant Colonel Henry C. Corbin, Assistant Adjutant General, wrote the following final endorsement.
Respectfully submitted to the Major General Commanding the Army by letter of Feby. 27, 1892. The Commanding General Department of Dakota was informed of the decision of the Major General Commanding not to publish Captain Fechét in order of honorable mention. General Miles was furnished a copy of that letter.
The case of Captain Fechet was also adversely acted upon by the Major Genl Commanding when it was first presented to him in 1891.
Three days later Colonel Thomas M. Vincent put the recommendation to rest for good with his final endorsement, “Further action at present not deemed necessary by the Major General Commanding.”
Edmond G. Fechét was promoted in due course in 1891 to the rank of major in the 6th Cavalry following the Pine Ridge Campaign of that previous winter. He retired for disability at that rank in 1898 and was later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel while serving as the Professor of Military Science at the University of Illinois. He died on 16 November 1910 in Champaign, Illinois, while serving in that capacity.
Fechét wrote his account of the death of Sitting Bull five years after the incident. Titled “The True Story of the Death of Sitting Bull,” it was published in Cosmopolitan Magazine in March 1896 and can be read online at Internet Archives. In his account Major Fechét related the following incident at Sitting Bull’s camp on 15 December 1890, two weeks before the tragedy at Wounded Knee.
Going to the cook-fire for a cup of coffee, which I had just raised to my lips, I was startled by the exclamations of the police, and on looking up the road to where they pointed saw one of the ghost-dancers in full war array, including the ghost-shirt, on his horse, not to exceed eighty yards away. In a flash the police opened fire on him; at this he turned his horse and in an instant was out of sight in the willows. Coming in view again some four hundred yards farther on, another volley was sent after him. Still further on he passed between two of my picket posts, both of which fired on him. From all this fire he escaped unharmed, only to fall at Wounded Knee two weeks afterward.
It was ascertained that this Indian had deliberately ridden up to our line to draw the fire, to test the invulnerability of the ghost-shirt, as he had been told by Sitting Bull that the ghost-shirt worn in battle would be a perfect shield against the bullets of the white man. He, with some others of the most fanatical of the party, fled south, joining Big Foot’s band. He was one of the most impetuous of those urging that chief not to surrender to Colonel Sumner, but to go south and unite with the Indians in the Bad Lands, backing up his arguments by the story of the trial of his shirt. Who can tell but that the sanguinary conflict at Wounded Knee, December 28th [sic: 29th], would have been averted if the Indian police had been better marksmen and had brought down that daring Indian; and that Captain Wallace and his gallant comrades of the Seventh Cavalry, who gave up their lives that day, would be still among us?
Edmond G. Fechét was never officially commended by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, the War Department, or any high official in the government for his actions on 15 December 1890. He was buried in his home town of Port Huron, Michigan, in the Lakeside Cemetery.
 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, the National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington: The National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1974), M983, Roll 1, 1856-1857.
 Ibid., 517.
 Ibid., 568.
 Edmond G. Fechét, “The Capture of Sitting Bull,” South Dakota Historical Collections, vol. 4 (Sioux Falls: Press of Mark D. Scott, 1908), 191.
 Ibid., 1850-1856
 Adjutant General’s Office, Honorable Mention file for Edmond G. Fechét, Principal Record Division, file 3466-PRD-1891, Record Group: 94, Stack area: 8W3, Row: 7, Compartment 30, Shelf: 2. Research conducted by Vonnie S. Zullo of The Horse Soldier Research Service.
 “Recent Army Decorations,” Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, Neb., 30 Dec 1891), 4.
 Adjutant General’s Office, Honorable Mention file for Edmond G. Fechét.
 Edmond G. Fechét, “The True Story of the Death of Sitting Bull,” Cosmopolitan Magazine (March 1896), 499-500.
 Marguerite, photo., “LTC Edmond Gustav Fechet,” FindAGrave (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=80174732) uploaded 28 Aug 2015, accessed 30 Nov 2015.
Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Captain Edmond Gustave Fechét, 8th Cavalry – Capture and Death of Sitting Bull” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2016, http://wp.me/p3NoJy-Rd) posted 15 Dec 2015, accessed date __________