Hunting for Big Foot, part 2: 24 December 1890.


I fear to leave this vicinity in pursuit of Big Foot as he might turn north and commit depredations.
–Maj. Gen. N. A. Miles

This day 125 years ago… the hunt for Big Foot began in earnest as forces were directed to block or intercept the Miniconjou band. (click to open Hunting for Big Foot homepage)

The time displayed, e.g. (9:30 a.m.), at the beginning of each message reflects when that information was sent from or received at General Brooke’s headquarters, unless otherwise indicated.  Most of the messages were transmitted via telegraph. Those messages that were delivered by other means such as couriers or heliograph are so annotated in parenthesis at the end of each respective message.  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.  Click on photos of individuals to see an enlarged version of the source photograph in a new tab.  Similarly, clicking on maps will open a new tab with an enlarged view of each map that can be zoomed in for greater detail.

Wednesday, Dec. 24, 1890.

(Click to enlarge) Inset depicting approximate location of Lt. Col. Sumner and Col. Carr on the morning of 24 Dec. 1890.

(Click to enlarge) Inset depicting approximate location of Lt. Col. Sumner and Col. Carr on the morning of 24 Dec. 1890.

e-a-carrCarr to Miles (sent 10 a.m.): Respectfully forwarded [Sumner’s message regarding Big Foot’s escape] to General Miles.  I am starting with all troops here to cut the trail.  One troop out patrolling and four troops go with me. {1061}

Thomas_H__RugerRuger to Brooke: Colonel Sumner, who reported on the twenty-first the surrender of Big Foot with all his people and others, at this village, some thirty young men from Cherry creek and thirty-eight Sitting Bull refugees, latter mostly women and children, reports, dated yesterday, that Big Foot had slipped off and moved south with ponies and lodge poles, no wagons; that he has notified Colonel Carr, the date not stated, number going with Big Foot, nor whether any women and children. I directed Sumner to pursue, but, of course, much time is lost. {497}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (11:55 a.m.): I regret exceedingly to say that Big Foot has eluded Sumner and is now going south in light order on ponies. Will probably join those in the Bad Lands. Carr has been notified to endeavor to intercept them. If a command were to move quickly from Pine Ridge a little north east and thence down Porcupine or in that vicinity, it might possibly intercept them. They need not disturb any that may be coming from the Bad Lands. We must now close up all possible avenues of escape, shorten the line and enclose them. Big Foot has one hundred men. {498}

Lt Fayette W. RoeRoe to Henry: The Commanding General directs that you move at once with your command, 10 scouts, pack train and two mountain Hotchkiss guns down Wounded Knee creek and across on the road to road running to the mouth of Rapid creek and endeavor to intercept any Indians coming from the north. You will probably find them trying to enter the Bad Lands from trail on Bad Water or Cottonwood creeks. Copy of telegram from Division Commander on this subject enclosed. (letter) {503}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (12:45 p.m.): I send Major Henry with his battalion of cavalry to the road running from Porcupine across to Rapid creek and cover the entrances to the Bad Lands from the east. He will move at once, though I am pretty sure Big Foot’s party will be in the Bad Lands before he can possibly reach the point he is to go to. {499}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (2:50 p.m.): The line is entirely too long, and if those Indians in the Bad Lands do not surrender at once they will endeavor to break through the line and escape. I have no idea they intend to remain in the Bad Lands and the line can be shortened by a night march from all points and we might possibly enclose them. The greatest danger is their breaking through along the line of Cheyenne river and going south or north of the Black Hills. Shafter’s regiment could be put on train and moved to any point between Oelrichs for any service required of it. Sanford’s command can be moved up by train to Meade in case they should escape. I regret exceedingly these Indians escaping from Sumner. It is most unfortunate just at this time. His orders were positive and he reported that he had them, but he was deceived. Possibly you may receive more favorable news from your front, but we should be prepared for serious work immediately. What available force will you have after leaving necessary forces to hold and control at Rosebud and Pine Ridge? {502}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (2:55 p.m.): Sumner reports camp near Big Foot’s village December 23rd, ten p.m. Big Foot sent word that he would go to Bennett to-morrow. Marched near his village and found he had started south in light order with ponies, lodge poles, no wagons. I fear to leave this vicinity in pursuit of Big Foot as he might turn north and commit depredations. Carr was notified soon after daylight to push a command eastward to intercept. Your prompt action in sending Henry’s command may be effective. Big Foot may possibly have about one hundred and thirty men, 330 people. {501}

Lt Fayette W. RoeRoe to Henry: Big Foot left his camp last night with ponies and lodge poles, no wagons. He started south. Sumner thinks he might turn north. Carr was ordered soon after daylight to post a command eastward and try to intercept him. There may be about 130 men, 330 people in all. This has reached here after you left and is sent after you. If you can reach the trail going in from Cottonwood you may be able to intercept him. At the same time look carefully to the eastward of the road from Porcupine north. Should you find he has gone in, establish yourself so you can keep him there. Be very careful to avoid any complications with the Indians sent out from here, if at all possible. (by courier) {504}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (3:35 p.m.): Do you wish Shafter moved at once to Oelrichs? I have ordered him to put his regiment on board the train now at Valentine and await orders. I can send Forsyth with two battalions of his regiment to close the line at any time. This constitutes all of my available force here and at Rosebud. I am holding the two troops of cavalry at Rosebud for any service they may be needed for to the north or elsewhere, but they would hardly be in time now for this. I expect to hear from the Bad Lands this evening and if Big Foot has not gotten there before I would not be at all surprised to hear that the Indians there were coming in. If they should break through to south of Black Hills I can send cavalry from Rosebud to railroad and send it west to Crawford and then north on B & M road to any point. The cavalry here could go that way also, at least a battalion of it. Sanford should know of any move in that direction, as I ordered him to patrol to north east and south east. I am now all equipped for anything at very short notice. It might be well to keep some cavalry here in addition to the infantry. I wish to say that the Indians in the Bad Lands disclaim any intention to fight and are only preparing for defense. This is what all my information impresses on me. If Big Foot gets there this purpose may change. I will hope they will start in to-morrow. Henry will be across the only way of getting in before daylight to-morrow. I have sent word to the friendly Indians that these troops are not going against them. There is a question in this which I would ask you to answer soon as possible. {506}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Ruger (5:40 p.m): I sent Major Henry to the road between Porcupine and Rapid Creek this afternoon to intercept Big Foot’s party. He will be across the only trails from that direction early to-morrow. I am sorry this has occurred as it will quite likely defeat the effort now being made to bring in the Indians in the Bad Lands. {512}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (5:50 p.m.): Do you not think it probable that Big Foot has gone to Cheyenne agency? It would appear to me quite likely that he would try to hide amongst his own people. If he has gone in the direction of the Bad Lands and Carr sends a few troops south on the road from mouth of Rapid Creek to meet Henry I think the junction would be prevented. {508}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (6:15 p.m.): The reports of all Indians coming from the Bad Lands coincide in the expression that they are all crazy on the matter of the Messiah. That they do not want to fight the white man and so forth. A crazy white man [Hopkins] came here two days ago and proclaimed himself the son of God. The Indians who did not see him were quite excited. Those who did see him said he was crazy. {513}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (6:30 p.m.): You speak too long a line. Why not make it on the road from White Clay to French creek and along White river to road from Wounded Knee to Rapid creek? This would enclose the Indians and leave troops in large enough bodies to detach enough for pursuit if they should break through, which I don’t think probable. The Indians in the Bad Lands have done the thing you thought improbable, from all I can learn they have placed their camp in that part of the table on the north which is connectedly a narrow neck to the main table. The top of the whole table is a rolling, level plain with a few places for water. If any Indian escapes it will be on foot only. I would recommend an attack as outlined in my letter to Carr. I think cavalry can be used dismounted at all points. The distance precludes a sudden movement of infantry. {514}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (7:30 p.m.): Should Big Foot turn east and go to his agency that would be very gratifying news, but his action does not indicate it. How would it do to have the First Infantry stopped near Oelrichs and have Sanford take the same train and move up to Fairburn? There is plenty of infantry but very little cavalry. You are more familiar than I am with that section of country about Oelrichs and know the chances of their escape in that direction. {509}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (10:30 p.m.): Standing Bear, one of the party that went to the Bad Lands, returned this evening. This Indian is one of the most progressive here. He tells me that many of the people there are crazed by the strange frenzy which prevails, that they court death, that they prefer to die, and goes through the story you know of the Messiah craze. That there are many who wish to come in who cannot get away, but he thinks those of the party still there will be able to bring in a great many. The nature of the ground is what I have already described to you and the number of fighting men was one hundred and nine and about ten old men. There might be a few more or a few less, but he thought he counted them all, and that he counted one hundred and thirty guns and pistols. The rest of the party, numbering over one hundred, will be in to-morrow with such as they can bring with them. His belief is that those who stay will be found there if the troops go out. I have questioned this man closely and am entirely satisfied that a movement such as I indicated in my letter to Carr will make a finish of the matter in a very short time. The road to the west of the table land being occupied would make the escape of any improbable. I have ordered Shafter to Fairburn. {516}

Tomorrow, Christmas day, the hunt continues.

(click to open Hunting for Big Foot homepage)


Source: John R. Brooke, Sioux Campaign 1890-91, vols. 1 and 2 (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1919). These documents were typed and certified as true copies by 1st Lieut. James T. Dean who served as aide-de-camp to General Brooke from February 1893 to May 1895. These original certified copies appear to have been bound into two volumes and an index likely by Lieut. Dean during that same time frame. A label in the front of each volume indicates that they were presented by General Brooke to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on 21 May 1919. The messages were not bound in chronological sequence, but rather grouped by similar material. The messages presented here have been reordered chronologically and represent only a portion of all the documents. Numbers inside the braces ‘{666}’ at the end of each message denote respective page numbers from the bound volumes. A select few of these documents–145 of over 1,080 pages–are also available online from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania under the title, “Correspondence, Sioux Campaign (vol. 2),” (http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/2392) accessed 8 Sep 2015.  Maps and insets are from 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), fold out map attached to back of book.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Hunting for Big Foot, part 2: 24 December 1890,” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2016, http://wp.me/p3NoJy-P8) posted 24 Dec 2015, accessed date __________.

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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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