Hunting for Big Foot, part 4: 26 December 1890.

It is very important to secure the men with Big Foot with as little delay as possible.
–Maj. Gen. N. A. Miles

This day 125 years ago… as the hunt for Big Foot entered the third day, General Brooke committed another battalion of cavalry to the search.  (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.

Friday, Dec. 26, 1890.

(Click to enlarge) Inset depicting approximate location of Maj. Henry and Col. Carr, and the Brule Lakota under Kicking Bear and Short Bull on White River after abandoning their stronghold on the morning of 26 Dec. 1890.

(Click to enlarge) Inset depicting approximate location of Maj. Henry and Col. Carr, and the Brule Lakota under Short Bull and Kicking Bear on White River after abandoning their stronghold the previous evening.

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (8:45 a.m.): A messenger from Bad Land Indians says they all camped on White river last night and will be on White Clay creek, about sixteen miles from here, to-night. He says they have all started, leaving none behind. I will direct Henry to examine the table at once and would suggest that Wells be sent there also. {554}

Maj Guy V. HenryHenry to Asst Adj Gen Dept Platte (sent 2:30 p.m. Dec. 25, rec’d morning Dec. 26): Arrived at his camp 9 a.m. Found a good sheltered place, enough water, and by looking around for wood enough of the latter to last some days. The wagons arrived thirty minutes ago. I had my scouts out on two flanks near the “Bad Lands” Indians’ impregnable position, and one, Red Shirt, with his glass noticed a good deal of commotion among those Indians, and disappearance of tepees, signs to him of their moving out of that country. Any approach to the trail leading in near “Cotton Wood” I cover, also the one by “Bad Water”, by two scouts of observation. I have also one officer and two scouts on a road east of here some 14 miles, one familiar to the Indians and by which those fleeing could approach White river and strike the Bad Land trail. I shall have a troop of cavalry for the day only cover the Cottonwood trail in addition to the above. If the Indians referred to, having escaped, have not been recaptured, the scouts think they succeeded in going in by the west. There is no place for a winter camp except on the White river, plenty of wood and water, and the trails can be watched from there.
P. S. My orders are not to disturb any Indians coming from the Bad Lands. (by courier) {543}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Henry (11:30 a.m.): Your report of 2:30 p.m. yesterday received. Before this time you will have received the letter sent you by courier last night at 7:30 p.m. The confusion seen in the camp on the table may have been preliminary to their breaking up there and moving in. A report just reaches me that Big Foot’s party may be coming round your right and coming in here or trying to get between you and this point into the Bad Lands. I will send scouts to head of Wounded Knee and follow it up with cavalry. Try to cover the country between you. At the same time keep a sharp look out for your front and for the Indians in the Bad Lands as well. It would be better to move your camp to White river at once.
Note: A report says a large number of Indians in Bad Lands broke camp yesterday and came to White river, the rest move to-day. Have your scouts look into this and see that none get away to north and east. (by courier) {544}

Lt Fayette W. RoeRoe to Forsyth (about noon): The Commanding General directs that you send a battalion of cavalry and two (2) Hotchkiss guns to Wounded Knee creek to cover the country south of the point where the road strikes it and north, down the creek to connect with Major Henry’s command of the 9th Cavalry, the purpose being to prevent any Indians joining those in the Bad Lands from that direction and if any be seen to capture them and hold them prisoners and report the fact. Big Foot’s band may be coming in from the east. Keep scouts well out to the east, north-east and south. (courier) {547}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (12:15 p.m.): A report has just reached me that makes me think Big Foot has reached White river and is moving up Porcupine creek and will try to get into this agency. I send a battalion of cavalry to head him off and capture him if possible. The effort evidently was to get to Bad Lands, but by this time the Indians from there are on their way. I have sent orders to Henry to come back to White river and cover all he can of the northern outlets or inlets. Scouts are now out in the direction these Indians are supposed to be coming from. Have any but Sitting Bull’s Indians left Standing Rock? {557}

During the course of the campaign, General Brooke regularly received verbal messages from scouts and friendly Indians.  The details of those messages were rarely captured in the official record.  As such, there is no detail of the report Brooke received that informed him that Big Foot had crossed the White River near Porcupine Creek and caused him to dispatch a battalion of cavalry to Wounded Knee.

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (1:30 p.m.): I have enough supplies for all troops along the Cheyenne here and at Rushville, which can be brought here in a day. How many men and horses are to be supplied? I am pretty well satisfied Big Foot is on his way here, traveling at night and laying by during the day. {569}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (3:34 p.m.): Big Foot is going between Pine Ridge and Rosebud. May try to get a following of young warriors. Do not let them escape and if you capture them I believe it would be well to march them straight to the railroad and put them on the cars. Send positive orders to make no mistake about his capture this time. {559}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (3:35 p.m.): The only Standing Rock Indians unaccounted for are about thirty with Big Foot and there are thirty-three Cheyenne Indians that ran away from Hump and joined Big Foot, making about one hundred and thirty men, three hundred and thirty Indians in all. One statement was that Big Foot was going to Pine Ridge and I hope you will round up the whole body of them, disarm and keep them all under close guard. Sumner was ordered to follow, and some part of Carr’s command I have no doubt is doing the same thing, as I have not heard from him for forty-eight hours. Big Foot is cunning and his Indians are very bad. {558}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (4 p.m.): I do not think there will be any mistake made with Big Foot if we get him. My orders are to dismount him and destroy his arms and hold him when caught for my orders. He is near, certainly, and if he eludes Whitside I have another battalion ready and scouts are well out on his probable track. If the First Infantry could be held at Hermosa to come down the road when ordered it would be a good thing to send this party to Omaha, if caught. {560}

Lt Charles M. TruittTruitt to Poland (4:45 p.m.): It may be possible that Big Foot and his party who eluded Colonel Sumner may strike for Rosebud. Take precautions to meet them and capture him should they do so. If captured disarm and hold them securely and see that he has no chance to escape. It is thought they camped below the mouth of the Porcupine on White river last night. They travel at night and lie over during the day. {571}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (5:50 p.m.): Captain Wells of French creek reports scout returned one thirty. States that camp that they were watching has disappeared and that he had sent out detachment to see in what direction. Possibly they are moving into Pine Ridge. It is very important to secure the men with Big Foot with as little delay as possible. {565}

Maj Guy V. HenryHenry to Asst Adj Gen Dept Platte (rec’d about 6 p.m.): I have to report at 7 a.m. I received dispatch sent 8:30 p.m. In reply the scouts yesterday reported the breaking up of camp in Bad Lands. My pickets last night reported the approach of three mounted men from the north. I pushed the scouts out, but they could discover nothing. All yesterday we were the object of apparent observation by Indians in the Bad Lands, and this place covers all that country on the west and south, that is the two only supposed practicable trails, the one running into Cottonwood, the other in Bad Water, and opening into the valley of the White river. The latter I called by lapsus pumae Cheyenne, but an all night’s ride, no breakfast, and writing on a wash basin, in the smoke of a fire may, I hope, give me absolution from the mistake made. I send out now Captain Wright’s troop to make a permanent camp on the White river and watch the two trails referred to, and see that nothing comes out, except to go towards agency, and keep me informed. The trail coming out at Cottonwood (no water or wood) runs into the Rapid City road, but my scout McGaw (or guide) says they cannot travel this trail. So the Bad Water one is the one of travel. I would like to know if Big Foot’s band are in, for I have a party east of me 14 miles watching for those coming from the north, and if he is in I will withdraw them. I would submit it would be well to allow me to go into the country vacated by Indians and get a lay of the land in that supposed Gibraltar, unless a party can be sent to map it. Which I can not. This and on White river are good winter camps. I am collecting wood to foresee blizzards. The scouts have only 25 rounds of ammunition. They are faithful and in earnest, but leaving places, where posted, without authority. They have to be educated. (by courier) {566}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (6:45 p.m.): A report from Henry just received confirms Wells’ report. I expect to hear from the Indians before morning. I would not be surprised if Short Bull and some of his immediate followers tried to get north. From information I have as to Big Foot I think he was near White river on a small creek about sixty miles north east from here this morning and will be likely to reach his last resting place to-night. I shall do all I can to catch him and once caught I believe can hold him. The whole country will be well covered to-night and every effort made to capture him. {567}

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (6:48 p.m.): I have no doubt your orders are all right, but I shall be exceedingly anxious until I know they are executed. Who ever secures that body of Indians will be entitled to much credit. They deceived Sumner completely and if they get a chance they will scatter through the entire Sioux camp or slip out individually. {561}

Maj Guy V. HenryHenry to Asst Adj Gen Dept Platte: Mr. R. O. Pugh, Pine Ridge agency herder, came into my camp this a.m. and reports his assistants, Messrs. Mills and Gallagher, were taken prisoners by Colonel Carr some four days since at mouth of Rapid creek, and are held in guard house. He cannot round up his herd without them. Indians occupied this camp a few days before I came, as shown by fresh beef killed. Mr. McGaw, my guide, has beef and hay. Am I authorized to buy? Lieut. Powell, 12 miles east of me, reports that portion is covered by Colonel Carr, who has four troops, there on Bull creek. I have ordered him to come in as that road is covered by Captain Wright at White river. Mr. Pugh reports Big Foot is supposed to gone directly south, where he will cross the White river and move to agency if he attempts to go into Bad Lands on the south or east that is covered. I will go to-morrow to south-west of Sheep mountain to see the country, as it is through these some may attempt to pass north. My scouts are daily in position to look into this country as well as Bad Land location, and they say our presence has hastened action on part of Indians, and given them an idea we are preparing for attack &c. Mr. Pugh tells me there are no troops between Battle and Spring creek, opposite Indian Draw creek, by which they can slip out. Of this I know nothing, as I understand I am only responsible for the two trails, Bad Water and Cottonwood, which I have covered. I issued more ammunition to scouts which can be replaced or returned to troops. I have gotten in to-day eight wagon loads of wood for any cold snap. This camp is well protected.  Men, horses and mules are in good condition. The night ride of 50 miles (called 42) pack train with command–all in good condition–speaks well for their training and practice. One-third of the distance was covered on the trot, the saddles and loads thus being taken off of horses and mules sooner.
This camp, known as Harney Springs, on map is marked “Iron Springs.” I camped here New Year’s eve 1873, and history may repeat itself for 1890. If more scouts could be spared they would save the constant work of others as now required. (by courier) {550-551}

Tomorrow Major S. M. Whitside, 7th Cavalry, reports details of his hunt for Big Foot.

(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),” ( 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 4: 26 December 1890,” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2016, posted 26 Dec 2015, accessed date __________.

About Sam Russell

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