Hunting for Big Foot, part 9: 31 December 1890 – 1 January 1891

Big Foot cost us (62) sixty-two killed and wounded.
–Brig. Gen. J. R. Brooke

This day 125 years ago…  General Miles began the morning at Chadron, Nebraska, and ended that evening at the Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota, still seeking answers for what went wrong in the hunt for Big Foot.  (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. 31, 1890.

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to Brooke (8:40 a.m.): Offley is on Flour road at Beef camp, southwest point of Mesa or table land.  He has five companies of infantry and two of cavalry.  You can send word through to Captain Baldwin who will be at White river early to-morrow.  I have sent order to Offley via Hermosa to extend to the right and endeavor to connect with Sanford.  I fear there is a gap in that line that will enable them to escape. {695}

(Click to enlarge) Inset depicting approximate location of U.S. troops as General Miles takes command at Pine Ridge 31 Dec. 1890.

(Click to enlarge) Inset depicting approximate location of U.S. troops as General Miles took command at Pine Ridge 31 Dec. 1890.

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to CarrI sent to Lieut. Casey to-day by one of his scouts a letter in which I detailed the situation from this side.  It was this in effect: Yesterday morning Forsyth, while disarming the Indians of Big Foot’s band, and while it was progressing a break occurred which resulted in the destruction of the Indians.  A few may have escaped but there were very few.  Big Foot was killed.  While the fight was going on most of the young Brules, who were here in Two Strike’s village, started out and attacked one of the 7th Cavalry troops.  On their return some of them fired into the agency and caused the flight of nearly one-half the Ogalallas and all the Brules.  The whole party is now camped about fifteen miles below north of here on White Clay creek.  To-day Forsyth was sent to see if the Indians were burning the Mission about four miles north.  He skirmished with the Indians for some time, developing quite a number.
The troops on White river have been placed under my orders by the Division Commander and are placed as follows: At mouth of White Clay Sanford’s four troops and three companies 17th Infantry under Offley. Wells’ two troops 8th Cavalry, exact location unknown.  In Bad Lands table three companies 17th Infantry.  Your command and Casey’s scouts.  One company 17th Infantry now en-route to join Sanford.  The purpose at present is to prevent the Indians going west, or anywhere in fact, and to arrange for all points at a time to be fixed.  The village is now located in a large bottom on White Clay creek, twelve (12) miles north from here and about the same distance from White river.  The valley is generally narrow with high bluffs and many ravines.  Their strength is about (700) seven hundred fighting men.  This includes those of Pine Ridge agency, many of whom I think would come in if they could, but may not have a very strong desire to do so.  The wiping out of about 100 of Big Foot’s men will relieve us to that extent.  To-night or in the morning I expect to have here that part of Sitting Bull’s Indians who went to Big Foot, numbering about (40) forty in all, about half of them bucks.  I hope there may be no break on their part when it comes to giving up their arms.  Big Foot cost us (62) sixty-two killed and wounded.  Please inform all commanders of troops along White river to beware of any efforts to throw them off their guard, many of these Indians wear citizen clothing and will try to disguise their object as do all Indians at war.  I am trying to get the Indians who belong here and who were quietly in camp until stampeded yesterday, to return.  I cannot say what success I may have.
Please report frequently by courier anything regarding the situation.
December 31st above was sent again with P. S. as follows:
I send you the above by your own people.  Your letter to Colonel Henry reached me late last night.  You will see that Casey’s scouts are on White river about 15 miles above your camp.  You should use them as you see proper. Forsyth went down white Clay yesterday and found the Indians on the defensive.  Communicate with me frequently, using the Cheyenne from the band here and they might be your best couriers, as they know the country.  The Sitting Bull Indians above referred to are here, and have been quietly disarmed.
 (by courier) {698-699}

Casey to Asst Adj Gen Dept Platte (9:01 a.m.): I will start to-day with band and two companies, First Infantry, for Addeton, Beaver creek.  If possible would like to have about ten cavalry men to use as couriers. {723}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Indian ChiefsRed Cloud, Little Wound, Two Strike, Big Road, Crow Dog, No Water, Turning Bear, Calico, White Face, Yellow Bear, Short Bull, He Dog.
I call you all to come here and talk to General Miles and myself to-morrow at mid day. General Miles expects to be here then. (by courier) {717}

Poland to Asst Adj Gen Dept Platte (3:10 p.m.): Captain Cussack, 9th Cavalry, will probably camp nearer Pine Ridge than Rosebud to-night on south fork of White river.  Can you not send scouts to direct him into Pine Ridge and not take the trail to Medicine creek after corralled Indians?  I have no scouts that are fit to send.  Blizzard raging here. {716}

Sanford to Truitt (5:15 p.m.): The scouts have located camp of Short Bull and Kicking Bear on White Clay about eight miles from here. Casey’s Indians have communicated with them and report that the Cheyenne families from the agency have joined them.  I have sent my wagons to Oelrichs for rations and for forage for myself and for my scouts.  Both are out to-night.  Have sent scouts north to communicate with Colonel Offley; south to march creeks into White river, west of White Clay. (by courier to Oelrichs, S.D. then telegram) {724}

Lt Marion P. MausMaus to BrookeThe Division Commander directs you to place sufficient troops between the Chadron and Pine Ridge road, where it crosses Beaver creek and the right of Lieut. Colonel Sanford’s line on White river, near White Clay creek, and to proceed along the line which now encircles the Indians not under control, down Beaver creek to White river, and thence down White river and up Wounded Knee creek, and to give such general directions concerning supplies and making disposition of troops as the circumstances and character of the country require.  The Commanding Officers, Lieut. Colonels Sanford and Offley and Colonel Carr, and those you may add to the line, should be fully apprised of the situation and impressed with the importance of maintaining an effective line with available reserves, as well as to keep out reconnoitering and scouting parties in their fronts, the object being to prevent the escape of any and gradually to force the Indians into the agency.
Communication by courier or other available means will be kept up and any important information will be communicated with the least possible delay by each commanding officer to those on his right and left, and also to yourself and these headquarters.
In case any portion of the line is threatened or attacked, each commanding officer will use his reserve or other available forces to support the troops threatened or engaged. (letter) {730}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Sanford: Colonel Henry will be on head of Little Beaver creek early to-morrow.  Connect with him if you can.  I will be there also and will come round to you soon.
Be very careful to prevent any Indians breaking through between you and Henry.  Communicate with General Carr and send him a copy of this. (by courier) {725}

e-a-carrCarr to Brooke (8:40 p.m.): I am encamped here, have 8 troops, 2 Hotchkiss and 1 company 17th, No scouts.  Have seen no Indians, but fear a party of six men which I sent up this creek last night with letter for Major Henry have been caught.  Aleck Mousseaux, bearer, says he was turned aside twice by Indians waiting in the road.
I have grain only to January 3rd and rations to 9th.
P. S. I have had parties ten miles or more up White river as well as in every direction. (by courier) {726}

The Fighting 7th's OfficersForsyth to Asst Adj Gen Dept Platte: Colonel James W. Forsyth’s official reports dated Dec. 31, 1890 of the battle at Wounded Knee Creek on Dec. 29 and the skirmish near the Drexel Catholic Mission on White Clay Creek on Dec 30.

Map furnished by Col. Forsyth, 7th Cav., of action of 29th Dec. 1890.

(Click to enlarge) Map furnished by Col. Forsyth, 7th Cavalry, of action of 29 December 1890.  Forsyth incorrectly annotated North at the bottom of the page.  It more accurately should be on the right side of the page.

Thursday, Jan. 1, 1891.

Maj Samuel M. WhitsideWhitside to Asst Adj Gen Dept PlatteMajor Samuel M. Whitside’s official report of the search and capture of Big Foot and his band of Miniconjou Lakota dated Jan. 1, 1890.

Maj Gen Nelson A. MilesMiles to BrookeI hope you will see that the troops are in position with as little delay as possible, as it is a fine day for marching, and accept my best wishes for the best results and a very happy New Year. (by courier) {739}

The above message was General Miles’s departing note to General Brooke as the former ordered the latter into the field.  That General Brooke left under a cloud was evident in papers of the day.  The Omaha Bee reported, “From the expression upon the faces of the officers and men, as they pulled out through the snow and bitter cold, it was evident that they didn’t relish General Miles’ order that came like the sharp crack of a whip.”

Lt Marion P. MausMaus to BrookeThe Division Commander directs me to say that he understood you were to leave some staff officer here that would know what orders had been issued and what had occurred here during the last two or three weeks, in order that he could refer to him for information.
He has not yet received copies of instructions to Colonel Forsyth 7th Cavalry, nor a copy of communication sent to General Ruger.  Please furnish copies at your earliest convenience. (by courier) {737}

Brig. Gen. John R. BrookeBrooke to Miles (10 p.m.): In reply to your communication of this date regarding the having of a staff officer at Pine Ridge agency who would know what orders had been issued and what had occurred there during the last two or three weeks, I would say that I did not understand that any such thing was desired.  I would also say that no officer of my staff is in possession of any information not heretofore made known to you by telegrams.  The other occurrences which led up to the information furnished you in this way is known only to myself.  I would also say that the copy of written instructions to Colonel Forsyth is herewith enclosed.  There were several other notes written on the afternoon of the 30th, copies of which are enclosed.  The order directing Colonel Forsyth to go to Major Whitside’s assistance was verbal, as also was the order directing him to go to the Mission. Colonel Forsyth may have the notes written him on the 29th.  My verbal instructions to him on the evening of the 28th were to take every precaution to prevent the escape of any of Big Foot’s band, and to be particularly careful in disarming them.
I enclose herewith copy of telegram to General Ruger, dated 8:30 p.m., December 29, 1890. (by courier) {738}

And, so ends the hunt for Big Foot and begins Major General Nelson A. Miles’s investigation of Colonel James W. Forsyth’s management of the Battle of Wounded Knee.

(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 9: 31 December 1890 – 1 January 1891,” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2016, posted 31 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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