Campaign Letters of Sergeant Michael Conners, D Troop, 7th Cavalry

I cannot describe in language the battle
but bullets sang home sweet home around our ears,
but I always said that Indian bullets were not made to kill me.

Sergt Michael Conners in Barracks at Ft Riley

(Click to enlarge) Sergt Michael Conners in barracks at Fort Riley, Kas. Photograph courtesy of Mrs. Joy Skinner.

During the course of the Pine Ridge campaign, Sergeant Michael Conners of Captain Godfrey’s D Troop wrote seven letters to a young seventeen-year-old woman, Lillie Carlyon, from Junction City, Kansas, the town adjacent to Fort Riley. Like the campaign letters of Sergeant John B. Turney and Private Thomas McGuire, Conners’s letters provide an enlisted soldier’s unique perspective of that winter’s events.

At about twenty-six years of age, Sergeant Conners was nearing the end of this first five-year enlistment when the 7th Cavalry was ordered to Pine Ridge toward the end of November 1890. Writing on letterhead from The Northwestern Hotel, Conners wrote his first letter from Rushville, Nebraska, on 26 November.


My Dear Lillie,
I have just had time to write to you and let you know how we got along on the trip. We arrived here today at noon and unloaded and started for the Pine Ridge Agency at once so I had no time to write then, but I was sent back at 10 o’clock tonight for some mules and wagons that were to come in from Colorado, and I leave here for the Agency about four o’clock in the morning. So that gives me about one hour sleep, and it is the first, that is the first sleep, I had since I left Riley.
Well, Lillie, we may have fun tomorrow or next day. All the people here are wild over the Indian scare, but I guess we will wind up their game when we turn loose. It is just my luck to have all the night riding, just as I told you before I left. Well, don’t be alarmed as there are enough soldiers here to do up all the Indians here.
I will close now, and when I get settled down I will write you all the news. When you write, address:

Sergt. M. Conners
Troop D 7th Cav.
Pine Ridge Agency
South Dakota

Let me know all the news.

Goodbye dear for the present,
Yours forever,

Sergeant Conners’s second letter, written from the 7th Cavalry camp at Pine Ridge, described events from 6 December 1890 surrounding Brigadier General John R. Brooke’s council with Chief Two Strike and other chiefs from the bands holdup in the stronghold of the Badlands.

My Dearest Lillie,
I have a few leisure moments, and I thought I would employ them by writing to you, as I know it will make you feel good to receive any news which may come from here. There was 35 of the hostile Indians came in today. I was up at the Agency when they came in over the bluffs. They all had guns and fine horses, and they had a large white flag on a pole in front of them that was a sign of peace. They held a council of war with Gen’l Brook, and the rumor now is that all the Indians that are out now will come in and give themselves up, and if they do, that may end the present troubles until spring, but the wind up of the whole thing will be the disarming of the Indians. If we do that without a fight, we will be in Riley by Christmas, and I hope so.
They had another big squaw dance here today in the Agency, and it called out a large crowd. They were dressed up in great shape with feathers and belts with bells, and they beat a large drum which they call a Tom-Tom. Six squaws beat it with sticks and sing, and the rest form a circle around them and dance. I wish you could see it for it would make you laugh. I wish you were here tomorrow to see the Indians come in. I bet when you saw them you would run four miles. It will be a great sight as they are all in war paint and their horses painted red, which makes them look as if they were all blood. Their hair are tied full of feathers, and the horses tails and manes are also full of feathers. Each has a gun slung over their back and their faces all streaked with three or four kinds of paint, which makes them look fierce.
I have a great mob in my tent. They are now raising the devil and you can’t hear yourself think. One half are in bed, and the rest are throwing boots at them and pulling the blankets off them. Once in a while one will say, “Keep still, the big chief is writing to his girl, and he will get some of our conversation in his letter, and it would horrify her if she would read what we are saying,” but I tell them to go ahead as they don’t bother me.
Captain Godfrey, our captain, joined us here today, and he will stay with us for good. They say that Maj. Bacon will come here in a day or two. We have all our Officers with us now except Bell. Capt. Moylan and Lt Squiers of K Troop are here. That completes all of them except Gibson and he is on sick leave.
Well, Lillie, I hope you are happy and having a good time, and I want you to enjoy yourself with my best love until you hear again.

I am still the same old Conners.[2]

Sergeant Conners’s next letter came just days after General Brooke cancelled his plans to move on the Indians in the Badlands with twenty-seven troops of cavalry and one hundred scouts. Writing again from the cavalry camp at Pine Ridge on 17 December, Conners expressed his chagrin that his regiment had not been given the opportunity to engage with the Indians. Perhaps more telling, Conners provided a glimpse of the enmity with which the troopers of the 7th Cavalry held their old nemesis, the Sioux. He also foreshadowed the carnage to come less than two weeks later at Wounded Knee.

My Dear Lillie,
I take the pleasure of writing to you to let you know that we are still in Pine Ridge, but we are under orders to march in a minute’s notice. The reason that we did not go the other day when we got orders is that we got word that a large band of Indians were coming in, and Gen’l Brooke thought if we went out we would scare them back, and, sure enough, there was 900 came in last night and today, and they are now camped with us. That leaves about 400 still in the badlands.
The 6th Cav. are coming down this way from the north, and they ran into and captured a band of Indians in the bluffs at the Cheyenne river. They had a small fight, and the Indians surrendered. They will chase the rest this way, and we will round them up. I suppose you heard the fight between Sitting Bull’s band and the 8th Cavalry and the killing of the Indians. They are now after the rest of them. That makes a fight for the 6th and the 8th, and we are laying here like wooden men doing nothing.
There are the maddest lot of men in this camp at present you ever saw. Just think of it, the celebrated 7th Cav here and not allowed to do anything. I would like to get one whack at them any way just for practice, and if we ever do get at them, we won’t take any prisoners. That is what Gen’l Brooke says, that if the 7th ever start in on the Indians that they will never stop until they kill them all, and you bet we will. We may go out at any time, and if we get them between us and the 6th they will catch hell (excuse my expression; it was a slip).
The weather still holds pleasant; only the nights are quite cold, but the days are nice and warm. Lt Hare left here yesterday for Riley. He is all broke up. Everybody is in good health and lively. There are only a few men in the Hospital here, and they are hurt by horses.

Sgt A H Haselwood

Sergt. Alvin “Jack” Haselwood, A Trp., 7th Cav., with his mount, likely at Fort Riley circa 1890.

Jack Hazelwood is over on a visit, and he says it keeps him busy writing letters to Riley. I am very busy in the daytime, but the nights I have to myself to write. Jack says he has only one friend, that is his nose; it is so big. He is lonesome like the rest of us.
We have grub and grain ready for four days’ march, which we don’t touch, and if everything turns out good, we may be back in Riley in a month or so. I hope so anyway.
Well, my dear, I hope you are in good health and enjoying yourself. The candle is near out, and Hazelwood wants to know if I am going to write all night. He says that if I don’t quit, he will kick over the writing desk, which is a board. The candle is out. Goodbye, with my love. Hazy held a match while I finished this.

I remain yours,

Two days later on 19 December 1890 Sergeant Conners again wrote from Pine Ridge and expressed his disdain at still no active role in the campaign.

My Dear Lillie,
I received your most welcome letter and adored picture and am very pleased to receive both, especially the picture, but I am sorry to say that the picture was broke in the mail, but it is just as good. We have not got ours yet, as the photographer sent them to the Chicago Inter-Ocean, but he says he will have some soon.
Well, my dear, we are still awaiting orders to go after the Indians. There are 200 Indian scouts going after them in the morning, and probably we will move after them. I hope so, anyway. We are tired laying here doing nothing and would like to get after them. I tried to go with the scouts in the morning, but the Gen’l would not let me go. One of the guides is a fellow I knew in the hills five years ago, and I would liked to have gone with him as we would have lots of fun, and I would send you an Indian scalp, but as it is now, I don’t think I will have a chance to get away. I was not going to tell you about it until we got back, if I had got permission to go, so you would not be scared. There was five of us volunteered to go, and I think they should have let us gone as the Indians wanted us to go with them, but I guess the Indian war is about over, and I would dearly love to get a few shots at them before they give up.
Campbell sends his regards, and he says to tell Fannie that he would like to squeeze her going down the hill to sod alley. Give my love to Carrie, and tell her she can’t send me any too much love, as I am sadly in need of that article just at the present, as I have not seen anything worth loving for a month or more. It is very near that long since we left Riley. It seems like a year to me; how long does it seem to you?
When you go to town give my regards to Mrs. Stevens, and tell her that I will look out for Steve while he is away, and, if he is killed, I will send her a curl of his hair, and then I will get the widow. I will take my choice between her and Aunty Campbell. Give my love to Aunty and Graney Baumgartner and all the people in Riley.
There was a company of Indian scouts left here the other day for Rapid City, and you should hear their squaws cry. They kept it up all night, and we got no sleep. I tell you, they raise a great howl. To day they had a great feast. They had dog soup. I would like to eat some of that dog. They ate it in good shape.
Well, my Dear, I have no more to tell you at present, but you can tell all your friends that there will be no fighting with the Indians this year for us.

I remain yours truly,

Conners and Campbell

(Click to enlarge) Sergeant Michael Conners and Regimental Saddler Sergeant Otto Voit, likely at the Pine Ridge Agency prior to Wounded Knee. Voit was a Medal of Honor recipient from the battle of Little Big Horn.  Photograph courtesy of Joy Skinner.

Following the fight at Wounded Knee Creek on 29 December and the skirmish near White Clay Creek on the 30th, Conners managed to write later that night and get off a letter on New Year’s Eve. The following afternoon the regiment buried thirty of their comrades in shallow graves at the Pine Ridge Agency.

My Dear Lillie,
I received your most welcome letter and present, and I am very glad and thankful for the cigars.
I suppose you heard of our fights. Well, the 29th we killed about 150 Indians. We had them on level ground, and we done them up in good shape; only ten out of the whole band got away. That band was said to be the worst one in the country. It was the one that got away from the north. We made a night dash and captured them, and they made a break, and we shot them down. We followed them for miles and killed them all quick. We had about 25 killed and about the same wounded. We left the dead Indians laying where they fell and brought our dead and wounded in here, and the 30th all the other Indians left here, and we followed them in the hills and fought them all day. We killed a good many and only had two of our men killed and six wounded. We expect more troops here tomorrow and we will exterminate all the Indians in the country.
I cannot describe in language the battle but bullets sang home sweet home around our ears, but I always said that Indian bullets were not made to kill me. Every one is wild to get at them to revenge the death of our men. The fight of the 29th was the hardest and the hottest fight ever known in Indian warfare. All the Officers said so, and they say the men behaved very good and done splendid.
While we were fighting on the 29th, we were about 18 miles from the Agency, and the Indians here broke out and fired into the Agency and then left. We have been up now for three days and nights, and tonight I have to sit up until one o’clock with half the troop, and then we can go to bed, if we don’t have to go out in the meantime.
Well, Lillie, we feel very blue having our men killed, but it is war. I think that in a week we will have them darned Indians all killed. I am very sorry that Campbell was wounded. He was shot in the mouth at the first fire. He is not seriously wounded, but it will lay him up for a couple of months. I want you to tell Mrs. Campbell that I said it was nothing and that he was very happy and in good care in the hospital. I will give you a list of the killed and wounded that you know, above [at end of letter]. This Captain Wallace was killed at the first fire, also Stewart Pollock and the Sergeant-Major, and Sergeant Coffee was stabbed, also the Catholic preist who went with us.
Well, Lillie, I think everything will soon be over as other troops will be here tomorrow. Myself and Steve are all right, and I hope will remain so. Goodbye and think of me. Give my regards to all in Riley. I was thinking of you when the bullets were flying around us.

Bye Bye,

[P.S.] Killed
Sergt Coffee
Stewart Pollock
Sergt Major
Poor Kelly
Sergt Dryer
Toohey who worked for Ba
Sergt Hazelwood
”       Campbell
Lt Hawthorn
”   Garlington
”   Mann
Pvt Clifton
Lt Mann was shot today, the 30th.
Tell everyone that the gallant 7th never gives up.


Sergeant Conners followed up the next day, 1 January 1891, from Pine Ridge with additional details of the fights at Wounded Knee and White Clay Creek.

My Dear Lillie,
I received your welcome letter today, and it was just as I supposed it would be in Riley when they first got the news of the fight. I knew that everyone would be wild.
We are having a slight rest now, but I suppose we will have it hard again in a few days. We started out the night of the 28th and rode all night, and at eight o’clock in the morning, we surrounded the Indians and started to disarm them. When the ball opened, it was warm work for a while, and it was 1 o’clock when it was over. We loaded our wounded and dead in our wagons and marched into the Agency to give medical treatment to the wounded. It took all that night, and the next morning the 9th Cavalry wagons were attacked by Indians, and we had to saddle up and charged out to their rescue. When we came in with them we had to start out again, and we fought them all day until dark when we came in to get something to eat. That was the night I wrote to you.
When I was writing that letter we were under arms and bullets singing around us all the time. I wrote it on the butt of my carbine, and the men were asking me if I was making my will. We were 3 days and nights without sleep, and last night I slept like a top. To day the Infantry went out about 15 miles to camp. We have the Indians surrounded by troops, and I think that we will soon have them done up. The first day’s fight we killed about 150 Indians, and the second day we killed about 75. We had 32 men killed in the two days and about 30 wounded. Campbell is feeling good today. He has all his teeth and chin shot, that is, his under teeth. Hazelwood is very low, but he will recover. Lt Mann is not hurt much. He was shot the second day, also Sergt Ragnar of K troop. I always told you, if they only would give the gallant 7th a chance, we would raise the Devil, and I guess we have done it.
Well, my dear, give my love to every-one. Tell Mrs. Campbell that I will look out for Campbell. They are going to send all the wounded home as soon as they can stand the travel. We are ready for another fight whenever they are ready, but I guess they have enough.

Bye Bye until later,
I remain your Devoted,

[P.S.:] The last words Kelly said was when we started down in the ravine, “it is sure death to go down here,” and at that he was shot.[6]

Sergeant Conners wrote his final campaign letter on 21 January 1891, from Pine Ridge just days prior to the regiment returning to Fort Riley.

My Dear Lillie,
I received several letters from you, and I have been so busy. I had hardly time to write to you, but when you receive this we may be on the way home. We received orders to day to move our camp six miles out from here on the road to Rushville, and if the Indians remain quiet, we will start for home. I expect, in case everything proves favorable, we will be home by the first of February. Some of the Infantry will remain here for some time, but the 7th Cav. goes home. We don’t expect any further trouble, and all are eager now to go home. I suppose everyone will be pleased in Riley to hear of our coming back. You can all rest assured that the trouble is all over, and the 7th has earned a great name, but it cost us very dear, but we made a name which everyone can be proud of. All the western papers want us to go back to Fort Meade, also all the citizens up there, but ourselves want to go to Riley.
I hope everyone is well and in good shape there. Tell Campbell that I received his letter and that I will write to him in a day or so. I hope he is doing well. I suppose when we get back we won’t get a growl for a month. The people of Nebraska are going to present Forsyth with a diamond-hilted saber for the Wounded Knee fight. Some of the eastern papers give us the Devil for killing the poor Indians. I wish they were out here for a while. I think they would change their opinion. Give my regards to all in Riley, and tell Joe that Hazelwood is doing very nice. I will write again when we get settled, and by that time we may know just when we will be home. I will now close, hoping to see you soon.

I remain yours truly,

Conners was indeed busy during the remainder of the campaign following the fights at Wounded Knee and Drexel Mission. His friend, Charles Campbell, who was shot through the lower jaw at Wounded Knee, was the 7th Cavalry’s regimental quartermaster sergeant. With Campbell out of commission, Sergeant Conners was appointed to act in his stead, giving him the duties of supplying a regiment during active campaigning, and then redeploying them to Fort Riley. The appointment was a testament to the confidence that the regiment’s commander, Colonel James W. Forsyth, and quartermaster, First Lieutenant Ezra B. Fuller, placed in Conners’ ability.

At the beginning of April 1891 after settling back at Fort Riley following the campaign and enlisting for another five years, Sergeant Conners and Lillie, the recipient of his letters, were married. She was a local Junction City, Kansas, woman, seventeen years of age. Born on 3 August 1873, she was baptized Eliza Cora Jane Carlyon in the town of St Keverne, England. She was the fourth daughter of William and Eliza Jane (Williams) Carlyon. She immigrated with her family to America in 1886 arriving in New York harbor on 6 March aboard the ship Britannic of the White Star line.[8]

A military post on the frontier is a close knit community, with marriages connecting soldiers, siblings, and children. The familial connections between some of the 7th Cavalry’s officers in the early 1870s is well documented, with Captain James Calhoun marrying George Custer’s younger sister, Maggie, and Captain Myles Moylan marrying Calhoun’s sister, Lottie. Such connections were fairly common. In 1889, the regiment’s senior major, John Bacon, married the commander’s daughter, Mary Forsyth, and three years later Colonel Forsyth’s eldest daughter, Bessy, married the post surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel Dallas Bache.

As with officers, the regiment’s enlisted men that chose to marry often were similarly connected. Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant Charles Campbell, a veteran of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, was married to Elizabeth Hughes. She was connected to the regiment in that her oldest brother, Frank, was serving as a private in L Company when he was killed at Little Big Horn. Frank’s widow then remarried another 7th Cavalry trooper, John Rafter, also a private in L Company and survivor of the Little Big Horn disaster.

In May 1892, Mrs. Elizabeth Campbell’s youngest sister, Mary Hughes, exchanged vows with Fort Riley Post Quartermaster Sergeant Charles Lurig, thus making the regiment’s quartermaster sergeant and the post’s quartermaster sergeant, brothers-in-law. Sergeant Lurig was in his mid-forties and had just begun his fifth term of enlistment. Although not a veteran of the 7th Cavalry, he had served in the 6th and 4th Cavalry regiments and was wounded in Colonel Randall MacKenzie’s fight with Dull Knife in the Battle on the Red Fork in November 1876. Sergeant Michael Conners seemed to cherish his friendship with the Campbells, but his connection with Charles Lurig brought a swift and inglorious end to Conners’ military career.

Sergeant Conners was appointed duty as the provost guard placing him in charge of much of the security across Fort Riley. In the fall of 1892, Sergeant Lurig approached Conners with a money making proposition. The post quartermaster sergeant indicated that he had some condemned and excess property that he wanted to sell. With Conners in charge of post security, Lurig would benefit greatly with Conners’s cooperation to sell any goods. Conners agreed to seek out a buyer and arrange for transportation of what he believed was condemned and excess property. Conners would later state that he entered the arrangement innocently and once he was aware that what Lurig proposed was illegal, he backed out of the deal.[9]

The Junction City Weekly Union, February 4, 1893.

(Click to enlarge) The Junction City Weekly Union, February 4, 1893.[12]

Two months later, Conners approached Lurig asking if he could borrow $25 dollars, an amount equal to two months pay. Lurig had apparently just completed an illegal sale of government supplies and agreed that if Conners would go into Junction City and cash a $175 third-party check, he could keep $25 of the money. Conners agreed, traveled to town to the First National Bank, turned over the check, and endorsed a receipt for the cash. Conners kept the allotted portion and ensured that the remaining $150 was given to Sergeant Lurig.[11]

The government goods, by then in a railcar in Junction City, were brought to the attention of a deputy sheriff who reported it to the post quartermaster, and a quick investigation led to the arrest of Sergeants Lurig and Conners. Both men were charged with “wrongful disposition of public property.” A General Court Martial was convened on 20 February. Sergeant Lurig plead “guilty” to the charge and was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to three years confinement. Sergeant Conners plead “not guilty” and the court heard testimony over the course of four days. The prosecution’s key witness, a civilian named J. W. Johnson, testified to the effect that Lurig and Conners were partners in the crime. Several other witnesses provided circumstantial evidence and hearsay that implicated both Lurig and Conners. But, the proverbial smoking gun was the check that Conners cashed and the $25 that he kept.[13]

For the defense, Sergeant Lurig testified that Conners knew nothing of the property that he, Lurig, wrongfully sold. As character witnesses, the defense brought two officers, the first was Captain Fuller, commander of K Troop and former regimental quartermaster. Fuller testified:

In the field at Pine Ridge in the winter of 1890 and 1891, he [Conners] was acting Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant, after the regimental quartermaster sergeant had been wounded. As such, under my direction he had general charge of all the property that I had in the field, which consisted of the tentage of Headquarters, a large quantity of extra supplies including some clothing. I thought him thoroughly trustworthy and honest in every respect, and he performed his duties to my entire satisfaction.[13]

Next the defense called the Regiment’s commander, Colonel James W. Forsyth, who revealed that he knew Conners personally and trusted him implicitly.

I have known him [Conners] since 1886. I think he enlisted in the regiment about the time I took command of it. I have always regarded him as one of the finest soldiers in the regiment and have had the most implicit confidence in his honesty and integrity until this break. Sergeant Conners has been in charge of public property to my certain knowledge for the last three or four years as stable sergeant, and as acting regimental quartermaster sergeant with the regiment in the Pine Ridge campaign. I never heard of the faintest question as to his honesty or the care with which he performed the function of his office. Prior to his appointment as a sergeant, during my absence from home on an extended leave of absence Sergeant Connors had general charge of all my property. I left my house without turning a lock or a door and everything was found in perfect order on my return, although my property had been moved in the meantime to another set of quarters under his charge. I mean by this that my silverware and everything in my house was under his charge and not a thing missing on my return.
It was my intention if the opportunity occurred to appoint him regimental quartermaster sergeant.[14]

Conners provided testimony in his own defense in which he stated that once he learned that Lurig was trying to wrongfully sell government property, he, Conners, stated that he “wanted nothing more to do with it.” He went on to testify:

I did cash a check for Sergeant Lurig at his request and signed my name to it, which the banker asked me to do. He asked me if my name was Ulrich. I told him no, my name was Conners and I put it on the check at his request.
How I came to get this check from Sergeant Lurig was, I had asked him for the loan of some money. He told me he had a check, if I would take it to town and have it cashed, I could have the money I asked him for, twenty-five dollars, which I did.[15]

The court martial returned a verdict of “guilty” and recommended Conners receive the same sentence as Lurig. On 7 March Major General Nelson A. Miles approved the sentences and directed that both men serve their three-years’ confinement at the Leavenworth Military Prison.[16]

On 19 March 1893, Lurig and Conners arrived under guarded escort at Fort Leavenworth and were processed into the military prison. Conners was listed as twenty-nine years old, standing five feet seven and a half inches tall, with a fair complexion, sky blue eyes, light red hair, and weighing 149 pounds. The medical examination also revealed that Conners had a tattoo on the front of his right forearm depicting a scroll with his initials “M. C.” over top of a shield of stars and stripes.[17]

Three months after Conners was remanded to prison, Mrs. Lillie Conners gave birth to their only child, Ernest M. Conners, on 29 June.[18]

Conners requested a copy of his court martial records and began work on an appeal, which he filed on 1 January 1894. The basis of Conners’s appeal was that the key witness, Mr. J. W. Johnson, was actually the receiver of the stolen goods, and that his testimony therefore lacked credibility. While the appeal made its way to the Judge Advocate General of the Army, Conners fell ill in prison. He was suffering from Lobar Pneumonia, and in an era before the advent of penicillin, his symptoms gradually worsened with Conners experiencing fever, chills, coughing with rusty sputum, rapid shallow breathing, a bluish discoloration of his skin, nausea, vomiting, and chest pains from the accumulation of fluid in his lungs. Eventually the consolidation of lung tissue led to his death on 3 March 1894. The following day Michael Conners was buried in the Leavenworth Military Prison cemetery, a veteran of the Battle of Wounded Knee and a convicted man who likely never met his only son.[19]

Michael Conners is buried in the United States Disciplinary Barracks Cemetery at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.[20]

Unaware that Conners was dead, the Judge Advocate General denied his appeal on 31 March, four weeks after the ex-trooper succumbed to pneumonia in the prison hospital. The following September Charles Lurig received an early release from prison after serving a year and a half of his three-year sentence. He was also granted permission to again enlist in the Army if he so desired. After five five-year enlistments, Lurig was done with the Army even if the Army wasn’t done with him. He moved with his wife, Mary, to St Louis where he disappeared from all record. Mary Hughes Lurig later married a former infantry soldier in 1896 and settled in Illinois.[21]

In 1895, Conners’s widow, Lillie, married William McKulskey with whom she had four children: Ethel, William, Harry, and Lawrence. Ernest Conners, Michael and Lillie’s only child, lived out his life in Geary County, Kansas, in the town of Wingfield working as a farmer. Ernest married Anna Heim in the 1920s with whom he had two daughters, Maryanna Elizabeth and Joy Sue. Sergeant Michael Conners’s letters from the Sioux Campaign of 1890-1891 passed into the hands of his granddaughter, Joy, who has kindly given permission to share them on this site.[22]


[1] Michael Conners, letter to Lillie Carlyon at Junction City, KS, 26 Nov 1890. These private letters have never been published before now, and were provided through the generosity of Conners’s granddaughter, Mrs. Joy Conners Skinner. They were scanned and transcribed by Gregg Legutki of Rancho Cucamonga, CA. For ease of reading, I have made minor spelling corrections and added missing punctuation and capitalization.
[2] Conners, letter to Lillie Carlyon, 6 Dec 1890.
[3] Conners, letter to Lillie Carlyon, 17 Dec 1890.
[4] Conners, letter to Lillie Carlyon, 19 Dec 1890.
[5] Conners, letter to Lillie Carlyon, 31 Dec 1890.
[6] Conners, letter to Lillie Carlyon, KS, 1 Jan 1891.
[7] Conners, letter to Lillie Carlyon, 21 Jan 1891.
[8], England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 (Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014), FHL Film Number: 246852, 246853;, New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010), Year: 1886, Arrival: New York, New York, Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897, Microfilm Roll: Roll 492; Line: 40, List Number: 237.
[9] Adjutant General’s Office, Court Martial Case File for Michael Conners, Principal Record Division, Record Group: 153, Stack area: 7E3, Row: 15, Compartment 29, Shelf: 4. Research conducted by Vonnie S. Zullo of The Horse Soldier Research Service.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “The Quartermaster Robbery,” The Junction City Weekly Union (Kansas), 4 Feb 1893, 3.
[13] Adjutant General’s Office, Court Martial Case File for Michael Conners.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Fort Leavenworth Descriptive Book of Prisoners, Record Group: 393, Part: V, Entry: 125, Volume: 3. Research conducted by Vonnie S. Zullo of The Horse Soldier Research Service.
[18], U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 (Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005), Registration State: Kansas, Registration County: Geary, Roll: 1643517;, 1900 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004), Census Place: Wingfield, Geary, Kansas, Roll: 481, Page: 9A, Enumeration District: 0047, FHL microfilm: 1240481.
[19] Adjutant General’s Office, Court Martial Case File for Michael Conners; Fort Leavenworth Descriptive Book of Prisoners.
[20] Steve McCray, photo., “Michael Conners,” FindAGrave (, uploaded 25 Apr 2010, accessed 7 Nov 2015.
[21] Fort Leavenworth Descriptive Book of Prisoners;, Illinois, Marriage Index, 1860-1920 (Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015).
[22] The Junction City Weekly Union (Junction City, Kansas: Nov 17, 1894), 3; United States Federal Census, Year: 1900, Census Place: Wingfield, Geary, Kansas, Roll: 481, Page: 9A, Enumeration District: 0047, FHL microfilm: 1240481; Year: 1910, Census Place: Wingfield, Geary, Kansas, Roll: T624_440, Page: 8A, Enumeration District: 0053, FHL microfilm: 1374453; Year: 1920, Census Place: Wingfield, Geary, Kansas, Roll: T625_533, Page: 7B, Enumeration District: 55, Image: 53; Year: 1930, Census Place: Wingfield, Geary, Kansas, Roll: 702, Page: 2A, Enumeration District: 0015, Image:547.0, FHL microfilm: 2340437; Year: 1940, Census Place: Wingfield, Geary, Kansas, Roll: T627_1232, Page: 2A, Enumeration District: 31-16;

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Campaign Letters of Sergeant Michael Conners, D Troop, 7th Cavalry,’” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2016, posted 2 Apr 2016, 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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3 Responses to Campaign Letters of Sergeant Michael Conners, D Troop, 7th Cavalry

  1. Jerry Greene says:

    Another important addition to the Wounded Knee ensemble. Thanks, Colonel Russell!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam Russell says:

      I have formed a couple of opinions why Conners did not mention the killing of noncombatants in his letters to Lillie Carlyon. Having written family letters from a combat zone myself, there are some things you just don’t write about to loved ones. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the troopers left Wounded Knee not realizing that so many women and children had been killed or wounded. Conners’s two letters written just after returning from the Drexel Mission fight and the following day are extraordinary because they were written in the midst of, and just following, the activity. His letters haven’t been influenced by post battle banter that certainly would alter or skew his perspective and anything written four or five days after any battle. Essentially, Conners hadn’t had the opportunity to “collaborate” with his fellow soldiers yet. At that point, he knew only of what he personally had experienced at the fights.

      Conners was in Godfrey’s troop, which was divided into two groups after the initial fighting, with Tompkins leading a detachment in the ravine and Godfrey searching for Indians and ponies that Forsyth, through Whitside, ordered him to pursue. Of course that pursuit resulted in the White Horse Creek tragedy, the much noted example of troopers relentlessly hunting and shooting down women and children miles from the battlefield.

      I have been over Conners’s letters dozens of times to determine if he was with Godfrey or Tompkins. I suspect, but cannot determine definitively, that Conners was with Tompkins. His post script on his 1 January 1891 letter, “The last words Kelly said was when we started down in the ravine, ‘it is sure death to go down here,’ and at that he was shot,” leads toward that conclusion, with Conners going down in the ravine. However, the quote Conners attributes to Kelly is problematic. Kelly was of course in Nowlan’s I Troop, not D Troop, and was mortally wounded near the council circle. He was one of the most written about casualties at the time of the battle, although not as early as 1 January. His death provided the gripping narrative of receiving absolution and last rites from Fr. Craft as both men collapsed together on the battlefield, Kelly dying and Craft weakening from the loss of blood. The only soldier killed in D Troop was Private Reinecky, who had been with D Troop for almost four years. Tompkins wrote that Reinecky was killed while with him, which places him at the ravine. I posit that Conners was quoting Reinecky, not Kelly. But, why would he use Kelly’s name, not Reinecky’s? Conners served in K Troop before transferring to D Troop, but certainly would have known Reinecky by name. My guess is that Conners’s girlfriend may have known Kelly, but didn’t know Reinecky, and Conners attributed the quote to someone she knew. Of course that is just supposition.


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