Hunting for Big Foot, part 3: 25 December 1890.


Big Foot has had time enough to reach the Bad Lands, but was not there this morning nor had his trail been found by Henry.
–Brig. Gen. J. R. Brooke

This day 125 years ago… as Christmas Day dawned over the Dakotas the hunt for Big Foot continued. (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.

Thursday, Dec. 25, 1890.

(Click to enlarge) Inset depicting approximate location of Maj. Henry and Col. Carr on the morning of 25 Dec. 1890.

(Click to enlarge) Inset depicting approximate location of Maj. Henry and Col. Carr on the morning of 25 Dec. 1890.

Maj Guy V. HenryHenry to Asst Adj Gen Dept Platte: I arrived here about midnight last night, found no water, and but little wood, not enough for a day’s camp. This place is about three (3) miles north of the upper trail into the Bad Lands. The first trail into Bad Water scatters over a distance of about two (2) miles at its outlet, to cover which I have left two scouts near the Cheyenne [White] river, who can overlook the whole country. In order to get water for my men’s breakfast I am moving now, at 7 a.m., to Harney Springs, four (4) miles from here. From there I will feel out toward the Bad Lands or Indian location, and also east, a trail running south, I understand, about ten (10) or twelve (12) miles east of this point. I shall go no further north because that country is supposed to be covered by Colonel Sumner. I shall remain in this vicinity as long as wood is obtainable and then go back to the Cheyenne [White] river, watching the two trails referred to. (by heliograph) {536}

Major Henry mistakenly reported that he was on the Cheyenne River.  The bracketed insert of [White] was a correction made at General Brooke’s headquarters, and an aide later in the day communicated to Henry that he was on the White River, not the Cheyenne River.  During the week that Major Henry was camped on the White River, his messages were all delivered to General Brooke’s headquarters at Pine Ridge by courier.  As such, his reports were received twelve to twenty-four hours later, and sometimes longer. The information, including maps and sketches, was detailed, but never rendered in a timely manner, and thus of little use.  This first report was transmitted by heliograph and thus received almost instantly; it was Henry’s most timely report.

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (7:05 a.m.): Henry reports having reached his position at midnight last night. At seven a.m. he moved to Harney Springs for water. He is covering the points he was sent to cover and it is improbable that Big Foot will pass him.
Big Foot has had time enough to reach the Bad Lands, but was not there this morning nor had his trail been found by Henry. {537}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (12:25 p.m.): We will have to wait until we hear from Carr and Henry. Carr moved east to intercept Big Foot and may have done so, or followed him far enough to leave his line open. Am sending Casey’s Cheyenne scouts to mouth of Battle creek. This will make one hundred scouts along that line. Shafter can stop at Hermosa and go to Cheyenne river near Battle creek; and it is but seven miles to where one camp is reported to be and twelve miles to top of table land. If Big Foot does not join those and you succeed in drawing in a part, we may not have to attack. This is the most favorable light to put upon it, especially as the President’s orders are to prevent an Indian war. On the other hand, should Big Foot join the others we must prevent their breaking out and can only do so by shortening the line or by an attack. You have been in the most trying position and annoyed by unfair comments and criticisms, yet I trust your patience may be as good as I know your fortitude to be. What objection would there be in Shafter stopping at Hermosa? Sanford should not withdraw patrol until he is ordered to move. {530}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (2:30 p.m.): A messenger from Little Wound, Big Road and Fast Thunder, who are the leaders of the Indians who went to the Bad Lands, says that about half the Indians there are coming in and he thinks the rest will follow. If they do not there will be but about fifty men left there. I expect another messenger soon. {532}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (5:20 p.m.): When Carr returns to his former position, with Henry occupying his present position, the whole line may remain as at present. You could take the Seventh Cavalry and Hotchkiss guns, a command of infantry and two heavy guns (three and three-tenth inch) from the south or such command as you select. I could move Shafter’s regiment with Cheyenne scouts and two Hotchkiss east to the position you indicated for Carr. These two forces could drive out or destroy any body of Indians in those Bad Lands and at the same time we would have a strong second line in position to intercept and capture any that may try to escape either mounted or on foot. In my judgment this is the best disposition that can be made, but of course, I will listen to any objection or suggestions. As to the troops to remain at Rosebud and Pine Ridge, a good strong force of infantry, well placed, with artillery and a small mounted force would be enough to protect the public property and control a large body of Indians who claim to be peaceably inclined. If I move Shafter’s command I intend to move it under cover of night and keep it under cover during the day. We can time the movement so that troops will all be in position at daylight any day. Heliograph communication should be used where practicable. A good snow storm would be to our advantage. {538}

Lt Fayette W. RoeRoe to Henry (7:30 p.m.): Messengers from the Bad Lands report that all the Indians start for the agency to-morrow morning. It may happen that some may try to get north. You must take every precaution to prevent this as well as to head off “Big Foot’s” party. You may have maps of the country and can tell what to do. Have your scouts watch for the Indians moving this way, do not molest them but watch them closely as you can and put your troops in such places as will prevent any successful attempt to get away on the part of any of them. Any who try this must be prevented and if taken prisoners hold them and report. Also make reports daily of occurrences, or oftener if necessary. Colonel Carr is next north of you. Colonel Sumner is on the Cheyenne below the forks. The river south of you and which you crossed is White river and not the Cheyenne. (by courier) {542}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (9:10 p.m.): Tall Bull, one of the Cheyenne scouts, reported to Colonel Offley yesterday afternoon that he saw yesterday morning about sixty lodges pitching their tents near the hostile camp in the Bad Lands. Did not know whether they came from the north or whether they came from a different part of the Bad Lands. I am afraid this is Big Foot’s band and that it may complicate the good intentions of those coming in with Big Road, Little Wound and Fast Thunder. What time did your messenger leave their camp in the Bad Lands? Please reply at once. {534}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (11:30 p.m.): The Indians going from here had about twenty lodges with them and about ten lodges in the camp moved over and joined them. It must have been these which Tall Bull saw. There are no Indians in the camp except from here and those which have been there. I understand this from the messengers but have again asked them particularly. Seven lodges are reported as having already moved out and started but they have stopped to wait for the others. One lodge is now near here on the way in. The scout from Henry’s command saw no trail crossing the road and Henry reports none. I do not think any of Big Foot’s people could have crossed the road without the trail being well marked. {541}

Tomorrow the hunt for Big Foot escalates with the deployment of a battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment.

(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 3: 25 December 1890,” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2016, http://wp.me/p3NoJy-P9) posted 25 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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One Response to Hunting for Big Foot, part 3: 25 December 1890.

  1. Lawrence F. Nirenberg says:

    Russell;
    Merry Christmas and a Healthy New Year to you and your family. The information received from you over this last year has been most interesting to me, keep it up, it’s great. Still no diffinative information on the 1866 Winchester Carbine depicted in the photo at WK battle site though. I’ll keep hunting in any case.
    Thank you for your work, Larry N.

    Liked by 1 person

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