Private Matthew Hamilton, G Troop, 7th Cavalry, A Medal of Honor Recipient Lost to History

I believe that his conduct and the example he set the rest of the men of the Troop, entitle him to the Medal of Honor asked for.
–Capt. Winfield S. Edgerly

On the morning of December 29, 1890, Captain W. S. Edgerly was instructed to position his  Troop G of the 7th Cavalry on the east side of the camp on the far side of the agency road, where they remained mounted. Based on Lieutenant S. A. Cloman’s map depicting locations of the troops at the opening of the battle, it appeared to Major General N. A. Miles and the investigators that if there was any troop endangered by friendly fire when shots first rang out, it was Captain Edgerly’s situated directly opposite that of Captain C. A. Varnum’s Troop B, which was fully engaged at the onset.


(Click to enlarge) Inset of the map that Major General N. A. Miles included with this 1891 annual report.[1]

At the Wounded Knee investigation, Major J. F. Kent and Captain F. D. Baldwin asked Major S. M. Whitside, the first officer called to testify, if he believed Troop G was in danger by their positioning, to which the battalion commander pointed out that no one from the troop was injured. Still, Captain Edgerly’s initial actions indicate that he was concerned for the safety of his troop, as he quickly had them dismount and move the animals into the protection of the ravine just to the south.

Among the soldiers of G troop was Private Matthew H. Hamilton, a twenty-five year old Scottish immigrant. He was two and a half years into his first enlistment, and his bravery that day along the Wounded Knee Creek caught the attention of his commanding officer. Private Hamilton’s actions likely occurred while the soldiers of B and K Troops and the Indians in the council circle engaged in a life and death struggle involving small arms fire and hand-to-hand combat. It may also have occurred right after the surviving member’s of Big Foot’s band managed to break through the two cavalry troops. Some of the Indians took up concealed positions inside their tepees and fired back at the troops. Either way, Captain Edgerly’s troop did come under fire such that some of the horses and a pack mule stampeded. Private Hamilton, apparently without waiting for orders and with no regard for his own safety, immediately took action to secure the pack mule loaded with ammunition and then rounded up the other horses.


(Click to enlarge) Captain W. S. Edgerly’s original letter recommending Private M. H. Hamilton for the Medal of Honor.[3]

Writing from Fort Riley in March following the campaign, Captain Edgerly briefly described the private’s actions, “Sir: I have the honor to recommend Private Matthew H. Hamilton of my troop for a Medal of Honor, for conspicuous bravery in rounding up and bringing to the skirmish line, a stampeded pack mule, loaded with carbine ammunition, and several frightened horses.”[2]

Captain Edgerly’s recommendation, like most of the initial 7th Cavalry award submissions, was endorsed by the regimental adjutant, Lieutenant L. S. McCormick, and forwarded to the Department of the Missouri for further endorsement. The Adjutant General’s Office, acting on guidance from Major General J. M. Schofield, returned the request on April 6 to the department commander indicating that “The circumstances of this service are not so specifically stated as to warrant action.”[4]

Twelve days later the G Troop commander wrote the following endorsement to his original recommendation:


(Click to enlarge) Captain Edgerly’s subsequent endorsement in which he provided greater detail regarding Private Hamilton’s actions at Wounded Knee.[5]

Fort Riley, Kansas.
April 18, 1891.
Respectfully returned. I thought I stated the circumstances of this service with sufficient clearness in this communication, but will enter more into detail with the assurance that the Major General commanding the Army will agree with me that Private Hamilton deserves the honorable distinction for which he has been recommended. At the time the firing at Wounded Knee commenced, my Troop was mounted and near the Indians. I immediately dismounted it and ordered the horses to be taken to the ravine close by, for cover.
Bullets whistled over our heads, two horses were hit and they were all more or less frightened. The pack mule carrying extra ammunition and several of the horses stampeded and ran away in the direction in which the bullets were flying.
Private Hamilton who had remained mounted, being in charge of the pack mule, immediately dashed after them and, by good horsemanship and nerve, succeeded in bringing the mule to my dismounted line and afterwards in bringing in the stampeded horses.
He did a similar thing the next day [at the Drexel Mission fight along the White Clay Creek], bringing much needed ammunition to the firing line and distributing it with much coolness and bravery. I believe that his conduct and the example he set the rest of the men of the Troop, entitle him to the Medal of Honor asked for.
W. S. Edgerly
Captain 7th Cavalry
Comdg Troop G.[6]


(Click to enlarge) Adjutant General J. C. Kelton’s instructions directing a Medal of Honor be engraved for Private M. H. Hamilton.[8]

Captain Edgerly’s “assurance” that General Schofield would agree that Hamilton’s actions were deserving of a medal was well founded, as the commander of the Army submitted the recommendation to the Secretary of War on May 12. Acting Secretary L. A. Grant approved the recommendation the following day. Five days later the Adjutant General of the Army directed that a Medal of Honor be engraved.

The Congress to
Private Matthew H. Hamilton,
Troop G, 7th Cavalry,
for bravery at Wounded Knee Creek, S.D.,
Dec. 29, 1890.[7]

The Adjutant General’s Office mailed the engraved medal on May 25, and it arrived at Fort Riley in time for Memorial Day celebrations. Captain Edgerly presented Private Hamilton the Medal of Honor on Sunday, May 31, at celebrations in Junction City, Kansas, in which throngs of onlookers watched a parade that included a battalion of the 7th Cavalry led by the regiment’s commander, Colonel J. W. Forsyth.[9]

Matthew H. Hamilton was born in Stranraer, Scotland. According to enlistment and census records, Hamilton was born about 1865. The 1871 Scotland Census lists a Matthew Hamilton, age 5, living in the Ochtrelure, which was a hamlet of Stranraer in the parish of Inch, Wigtownshire County. Assuming this is the correct Matthew Hamilton, he was listed as the son of William and Christina (nee McDonald) Hamilton, although some genealogists suggest that Matthew was living with William and Christina but was not their son. He is not listed on any other Scotland census with this family. William Hamilton was listed as a farmer, but the family profession held by several of the Hamiltons from Wigontownshire was that of mariner.[10]


(Click to enlarge) Record of Matthew H. Hamilton’s first trip to sea in 1881. He served as a Boy upon the ship North American under the captaincy of Matthew J. Hamilton.

Matthew Hamilton’s name next appeared on an 1881 ship’s log listing him as a cabin boy aboard the North American. The ship’s captain was Matthew J. Hamilton, possibly an uncle, and the vessel traveled from London to Melbourne, Australia, and returned. The captain, Mathew James Hamilton, was a master mariner for thirty years and died in 1885 when the younger Hamilton was about twenty. According to Australian records, Matthew H. Hamilton was working as an able-bodied seaman out of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, in 1883. It is likely that Hamilton made a number of trips between England and Australia before arriving in America, possibly after his mentor, Matthew James Hamilton, died at sea in February 1885.[11]

By 1888 Matthew H. Hamilton was living in New York City where he enlisted in the Army on July 6. He stated that he was a sailor, and his place of birth was incorrectly listed as Hobart, Australia, where he had previously worked. Hamilton had blue eyes, sandy hair, a florid complexion, and stood five feet nine and a half inches tall. He was assigned to Troop E, 7th Cavalry, and was later transferred to Troop G.[12]

By the time Hamilton was recognized in General Order 100 in December 1891, he was serving as a corporal, and later was promoted to sergeant. He completed his first enlistment on July 5, 1893, at Camp J. D. Mann, Texas, named in memory of the 7th Cavalry officer who died of wounds received at White Clay Creek. Hamilton reenlisted for another five years the following day, this time correctly listing his place of birth as Stranraer, Scotland. He completed that five-year enlistment on July 5, 1898, as a sergeant at Fort Apache, Arizona Territory, and signed up for another three years. Again, Hamilton listed his birth place as Stranraer, Scotland. He completed his last enlistment on April 22, 1899, at Pinar del Rio, Cuba, serving as a Quartermaster sergeant with a service characterization of ‘Good.'[13]

The last known record of Matthew H. Hamilton is the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, in which he was listed as living in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, working with the U.S. Army as a pack master, thirty-five years old, born in July 1864 in Scotland, and having arrived in the United States in 1888.[14]

Matthew H. Hamilton was one of 150 foreign-born soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars period. However, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society incorrectly lists his native country as Australia because that is what Hamilton listed on his first of three enlistments. All other records indicate he was born in Scotland. The Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States also lists Hamilton as one of 390 recipients who are lost to history. He is one of three from Wounded Knee, the others being William G. Austin and Marvin C. Hillock. Hamilton’s date and place of death remain unknown, and his final resting place unrecorded. A leading theory is that he died while serving as a pack master in Cuba and is buried on that island.[15]


[1] Inset to “Map No. 3 Scene of the Fight with Big Foot’s Band December 29, 1890, Showing position of troops when first shot was fired, From sketches made by Lt. S. A. Cloman, Acting Engineer Officer Division of the Missouri,” Nelson A. Miles Papers, Sioux War, 1890-1891, Wounded Knee, Pullman Strike, Commanding General, box 4 of 10, repository at the U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, PA. Photograph of map taken by Samuel L. Russell, copyright Russell Martial Research, 2017.
[2] Adjutant General’s Office, Medal of Honor file for Matthew H. Hamilton, Principal Record Division, file 3466, Record Group: 94, Stack area: 8W3, Row: 7, Compartment 30, Shelf: 2. Research conducted by Vonnie S. Zullo of The Horse Soldier Research Service.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] “Presentation of the Medals,” Junction City Republican, May 1, 1891, 8, cited in Surviving Wounded Knee by David W. Grua, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, 62; “The Sacred Hero,” The Junction City Weekly Union, June 6, 1891, 2.
[10], 1871 Scotland Census (Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007), Household schedule number: 11, Line: 21; Roll: SSCT1871_189. In an email from Jo Ann Croft, dated 4 May 2015, she writes, “I have just finished a Wigtownshire, Scotland genealogical mail list discussion about Matthew H Hamilton. Although he is listed on the 1871 census record as a son born in Inch, we concluded that this was an error on the part of the person who filled out the form for the census (not an uncommon problem).  While he is definitely linked to that Hamilton family, he is more likely a nephew whose birth was not recorded for some reason.  Scotland began government registration of birth, marriage, & deaths in 1855.  There is no record of a Matthew Hamilton born in the county of Wigtownshire at any time in the 1860s.” Ms. Croft goes on to write, “He is not mentioned on the William Hamilton family stone in Wigtownshire (the custom was to list name, date of death, age and place of death if out of county).”
[11] Agreement and Account of Crew, North American, 13 Aug 1880;, UK and Ireland, Masters and Mates Certificates, 1850-1927 (Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012), Certificate Number: 54.645;, Scotland, National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936 (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry Operations, Inc., 2015), 296. In her 4 May 2015 email, Jo Ann Croft writes, “I found the record of his first trip to sea in 1881.  He served as a Boy upon the ship North American under the captaincy of Matthew J Hamilton for a round trip London to Melbourne.  This also is not his father, but most likely a great uncle. That Matthew J Hamilton died in Feb 1885 when the ship sank on a return trip from Melbourne. For the 1871 census, this Matthew & his wife were living in Wigtownshire with a young niece who was born in China.  Most likely her father was also a sea captain.  It is possible she and Matthew were siblings and the parents were deceased.”
[12], U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 (Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007), year: 1885-1890, Name: A-D, image: 494, line: 368. According to the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Hamilton arrived in America in 1888, the same year he enlisted in the Army.
[13] Ibid.; U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914, year: 1893-1897, Name: A-K, image: 393, line: 353; year: 1898, Name: A-K, image: 570, line: 2673.
[14], 1900 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004), Year: 1900; Census Place: Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Military and Naval Forces; Roll: 1838; Enumeration District: 0108; FHL microfilm: 1241838.
[15] “Hamilton, Mathew H.,” Congressional Medal of Honor Society, ( accessed 4 Mar 2017; “Lost to History,” Medal of Honor Society of the United States, (, accessed 4 Mar 2017

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Private Mathew Hamilton, G Troop, 7th Cavalry, A Medal of Honor Recipient Lost to History,” Army at Wounded Knee (Carlisle, PA: Russell Martial Research, 2015-2017, posted 4 Mar 2017, accessed date __________.

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Investigation of the White Horse Creek Tragedy

I then called to the captain that it was squaws, and he replied “Don’t kill the squaws.” I said – it is too late, I am afraid they are already killed.
–First Sergeant Herman Gunther

Three weeks after Wounded Knee an Indian policeman named Red-Hawk, who had been searching for his sister since the battle, found her remains and those of her children near White Horse Creek. He returned to the Pine Ridge Agency and reported his discovery of the bodies. Major General Nelson A. Miles, perhaps concerned with Captain Edward S. Godfrey’s testimony two weeks earlier that “My men had killed one boy about 16 or 17 years old, a squaw and two children,” gave Captain Frank D. Baldwin instructions to locate the bodies and determine what happened. On January 21, 1891, Baldwin submitted the following report:

Captain Frank D. Baldwin at the Pine Ridge Agency, 13 January 1891.

Captain Frank D. Baldwin at the Pine Ridge Agency, January 13, 1891.

I proceeded this morning at 7 A.M., under escort of a detachment of the 1st Infantry, mounted to White Horse Creek, about eleven miles distant, where I found the bodies of one woman, adult, two girls, eight and seven years old, and a boy of about ten years of age. They were found in the valley of White Horse Creek, in the brush, under a high bluff, where they had evidently been discovered and shot. Each person had been shot once, the character of which was necessarily fatal in each case. The bodies had not been plundered or molested. The shooting was done at so close a range that the person or clothing of each was powder-burned. The location of the bodies was about three miles westward of the scene of the Wounded Knee battle. All of the bodies were properly buried by the troops of my escort. From my knowledge of the facts, I am certain that these people were killed on the day of the Wounded Knee fight, and no doubt by the troop of the 7th Cavalry, under the command of Captain Godfrey.

Goodenough Horse Shoe Mfg. Co. had been supplying the U.S. Army with horseshoes and horseshoe nails since at least 1874.

(Click to enlarge) Goodenough Horse Shoe Mfg. Co. had been supplying the U.S. Army with horseshoes and horseshoe nails since at least 1874.

Tracks of horses shod with the Goodenough shoes were plainly visible and running along the road passing close by where the bodies were found. A full brother of the dead Indian woman was present. He had been on the agency police force for several years. Considering the distressing circumstances attending the death of his sister, his demeanor was remarkably friendly. His only request was that a family of three persons, the only relatives he has living, and who were of Big Foot’s band, may be allowed to remain at this agency. This I recommend be granted. I returned to the agency at 3 P.M. Very respectfully, Your obedient servant, Frank D. Baldwin, Captain, 5th Infantry, A. A. I. G.[1]

Almost a week after Baldwin returned from his ominous burial duty, correspondent George H. Harries of the Washington Evening Star published an article in that paper that heightened eastern outrage over Wounded Knee. Although run on page six, the attention grabbing headlines undoubtedly shocked the readers in the nation’s capital, “A Prairie Tragedy. How a Sioux Squaw and Her Three Little Ones Met Death. Tracing the Murderers. A Sad Scene Near Pine Ridge—The Discovery and Burial of the Victims of a Brutal Assassination—Cowardly Crime by Men Wearing the Blue.”

Pine Ridge, S. D., January 22,.—War, barbaric at the best, is legitimate, but there can be no possible excuse for assassination. Today I witnessed the last scene in the earthly history of four of God’s creatures. They were Indians and they lacked much. Education had done nothing for them and the softening touch of religion had not smoothed their way to eternity, but they had souls, and those who killed them as the assassin kills are murderers of the most villainous description. No one who looked upon that scene can ever forget it, and not a man or woman who is acquainted with the facts but regards the bloody circumstances with anything save horror. An Indian woman, comely in life, with her three children were brutally murdered at about the time of the Wounded Knee fight and within three miles of the battlefield. Yesterday their bodies were discovered by an Indian policeman; today the remains of the unfortunate quartet were placed in the bosom of mother earth. When it became known at division headquarters yesterday that four dead Indians had been found Capt. Baldwin of the fifth infantry and now on staff duty was instructed to proceed to the spot accompanied by a sufficient force for the purpose of identifying and burying the deceased. Sunshine and frost combined to make this morning pleasant enough to make South Dakota a reputation as a winter resort. Ordinarily two or three men would be able to inter four people, but these are still times of war and the revengeful Indian will lose no opportunity to wreak a portion of his vengeance on weaker parties than the one he commands. For that reason company A, first United States infantry, was ordered to perform escort duty and also to furnish a burial party. Lieut. Barry and his men have only recently been mounted on Indian ponies and there is perhaps a little friction because men and cayuses do not yet understand each other, but the command was ready before the hour specified—7 a.m.—and after a slight and unavoidable delay on the part of others who were to go along the column moved out of the settlement and to the eastward. Two ladies—one of them a newspaper correspondent, the other simply morbidly curious—were with the little expedition, the latter daughter of Eve being in a buggy commanded by Dr. Gardner, the former on one of Gen. Miles’ pet horses. Twelve miles from the agency was the spot to which our guides led us, the place where Red Hawk, an Indian policeman, had yesterday found the bodies of his sister and her children. Red Hawk, the scouts, Interpreter Frank White and myself rode ahead of the column and arrived there some minutes in advance, leaving the main trail and our destination over a bridle path that narrowed at times to a dangerously insufficient footing even for a careful horse. Red Hawk went alone to the little patch of brush in which lay those he loved, the remainder of the advance guard considerately halting on the bank above the bloody scene until it might be regarded as proper for them to approach and see for themselves what a cowardly deed had been done. Oh, it was a pitiful sight. Mother and children had never been separated during life and in death they were not divided. Prone and with the right side of her face frozen to the solid earth was the squaw “Walks-carrying-the-red.” Snow almost covered an extended arm and filled the creases in the little clothing she wore. Piled up alongside of her were her little ones, the youngest with nothing to cover its ghastly nakedness but a calf buffalo robe, which is before me as I write. The positions of the children were changed somewhat from those in which they were found, the discoverer putting them together that he might cover them with a blanket. The first body to be examined was that of a girl about nine years of age. In the horrible moment preceding dissolution she had drawn her arms up and placed them across her face—a pretty face, say those who knew her—and as the features molded themselves on the bony arms and froze her visage became frightfully distorted. A black bead necklace was embedded in the flesh of her throat. The victim was killed by being shot through the right lung, the ball entering high in her breast and making its exit at the right of her back, near the waist. Her sister—less than seven years old—was almost naked. She, too, was facing the murderers when they took such deadly aim and, like the other girl, she had tried with her arms to shut out the sight of the unwavering rifle muzzles. The ball entered her right breast, went through the right lung downward and came out near the spine and just above the left kidney. Seventy grains of powder drove 500 grains of lead through the brain of the boy—a sturdily built twelve-year-old. Of all the horrible wounds ever made by bullets none could be more frightfully effective than that which forever extinguished the light of life in this boy. The wound of entrance was on the upper part of the right side of the head; the wound of exit was beneath the right eye, tearing open the cheek and leaving a bloody hole as large as a dollar. There must have been at least a few seconds of agony before death came, for the right arm was thrown up to and across the forehead and the fingers of the left hand stiffened in death while clutching the long, jet-black hair near the powder-burned orifice in his skull. And the mother. Gentle hands loosened the frosty bands which bound her to the soil and fingers which tingled with the hot flow of blood from indignant hearts tenderly removed from her flattened and distorted face the twigs and leaves and dirt which in the death agony had been inlaid in the yielding features. Her strong arms were bare and her feet were drawn up as the natural consequence of a wound which commenced at the right shoulder and ended somewhere in the lower abdominal region. From the wounded shoulder a sanguinary flood had poured until her worn and dirty garments were crimson-dyed; the breasts from which her little ones had drawn their earliest sustenance were discolored with the gory stream. It was an awful sight; promotive of sickening thought and heartrending memories. While Dr. Gardner, Capt. Baldwin and Lieut. Barry were satisfying themselves as to the direct causes of death a detachment from the escort had prepared a shallow grave. It was on the brow of the hill immediately above the scene of crime. Red Hawk had selected the spot and it did not take long for half a dozen muscular infantrymen to shovel away the light soil until the bottom of the trench was about three feet below the surface. In one blanket and covered by another the bodies of the three children were borne up the slope and laid alongside their last resting place. When the detachment returned for the mother Red Hawk took from under his blue overcoat a few yards of heavy white muslin, which he shook out and placed over his sister’s body. Then everybody went up the hill. The mother was first placed in the grave, and upon and alongside of her were the children. Not a sound of audible prayer broke the brief silence. The warm sun shone down on the upturned faces of Elk Creek’s widow and children and searching January breeze played among their ragged garments. “Fill her up, men,” said Lieut. Barry, and that broke the spell. In five minutes a little mound was all that denoted the place from whence the four bodies shall rise to appear before the judgment seat, there to face four of the most despicable assassins this world ever knew.[2]

General Miles mentioned the incident at White Horse Creek specifically in his January 31, 1891, endorsement to the investigation of the battle of Wounded Knee in which he unequivocally found fault with Colonel James W. Forsyth’s handling of the affair. “I also forward herewith report of Captain Frank D. Baldwin, 5th Infty., concerning the finding of the bodies of a party of women and children about three miles from the scene of the engagement on Wounded Knee Creek. This report indicates the nature of some of the results of that unfortunate affair, results which are viewed with the strongest disapproval of the undersigned.”[3] On February 12, 1891, Secretary Redfield Proctor directed an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of the Indian woman and her children:

The bodies of an Indian woman and three children who had been shot down three miles from Wounded Knee were found some days after the battle and buried by Captain Baldwin of the 5th Infantry on the 21st day of January; but it does not appear that this killing had any connection with the fight at Wounded Knee, nor that Colonel Forsyth is in any way responsible for it. Necessary orders will be given to insure a thorough investigation of the transaction and the prompt punishment of the criminals.[4]

That same day Captain Godfrey had four of his troopers, who were involved in the shooting of the mother and her children, provide depositions to a local Geary County notary public. On March 2, General Miles returned the notarized statements and a memorandum summarizing the event with a full paged endorsement wherein he seemed to blame Godfrey while at the same time relieved him from any responsibility. Apparently Miles was only interested in holding Forsyth accountable for actions at Wounded Knee.

Godfrey - Fighting 7th Officers - J. C. H. Grabill - colorized by Amy Gigliotti

The woman and children killed were in the camp of Big Foot on Wounded Knee Creek. In his testimony at the investigation of the Wounded Knee Creek affair Captain Godfrey states that his men killed one boy, one squaw and two children. His testimony as to the locality where these people were killed coincides with the report of Captain Baldwin as to the spot where the bodies were found. Captain Baldwin’s report, which accompanied the papers pertaining to the Wounded Knee Creek investigation, shows also that the tracks of a troop of cavalry horses were found near the bodies, as well as other evidences of the presence of soldiers. The boy, however, was not sixteen or seventeen years of age, but between eight and ten, and the two girls between five and seven. Captain Godfrey subsequently admitted that this party was killed by his men, but gave as an excuse for them that he did not think they could see the Indians on account of the brush. Persons who were on the ground and examined the brush could easily be identified in that locality at a distance of fifty yards. The weight of this excuse, however, is entirely destroyed by the fact that the soldiers could see well enough to take deliberate and deadly aim and kill four persons with six shots, and so near were they as to burn the clothing and flesh of every victim, and one of their United States cartridge shells was found in the midst of the dead bodies. In my opinion, however, Captain Godfrey was not responsible for this crime. All the facts were not ascertained until the regiment was ordered out of this Division, and this incident was regarded in the same light as that of others which occurred in other parts of the field.[5]


Photograph of Colonel Peter D. Vroom, circa 1899, courtesy Wikipedia

Major General Schofield, through the Adjutant General of the Army, next directed Brigadier General Wesley Merritt, Commanding General of the Department of the Missouri to whom the 7th Cavalry was assigned, to conduct a further investigation. The task eventually fell to Major Peter Dumont Vroom, General Merritt’s Inspector General. Vroom was forty-eight years old and had served as a company grade officer for twenty-two years in the 3rd Cavalry before being promoted to the the rank of major in the Inspector General’s Department in 1888.[6]

Major Vroom received his orders on March 13 and conducted interviews with Captain Godfrey, and four enlisted soldiers from D Troop on the 17th and 18th. Vroom began with an interview of the Troop commander and asked Captain Godfrey, “Please state the circumstances with the killing of a party of Indians by a detachment under your command on the 29th of December 1890, after the fight on Wounded Knee Creek.” Godfrey replied with the following:

We were scouting down a creek, which I understand now to be White Horse Creek, and were in a gorge. I was looking to the flanks and also to see if there were any tracks on the ground of anybody that had passed there. Sergeant Gunther and some of the men called out: “Look out, there, Captain, there are some Indians down the creek there.” I halted the detachment, I had about twenty men with me and asked how many Indians they had seen. They replied that they had seen three crouching and running across the creek. My detachment was in column of twos. I dismounted half of the men and told Sergeant Gunther to take some men and deploy them across the creek valley. The other dismounted men I sent to the left on the high ground. While they were taking their posts, I called out several times: “Squaw,” “Pappoose,” “Colah,” and tried to indicate in the best way I could that if they were squaws or children they had no reason to fear us. Sergeant Gunther then called my attention and said: “Captain, they will get the advantage of us if we stand here.” I was waiting for the men on the left to get into position and also waiting to get responses from the Indians. When the men first began to go out I cautioned them particularly against shooting squaws and children, and when they were ready to advance I gave this caution again. I then told the non-commissioned officers to move their squads forward very carefully. Sergeant Gunther’s men moved forward crouching down pretty close to the ground, and pretty soon some one called out: “There they are,” and they commenced firing. I heard the wail of a child and called to them to stop firing, but they had already stopped. The party was then about twenty-five or thirty yards from where the Indians were found. I immediately ran forward to where the bodies were and saw at a glance a boy, squaw and two children lying there. The look was sufficient to satisfy me that I could do nothing for the squaw and children. The boy was lying on his face motionless and I supposed he was dead. I had already ordered the men to continue on down the creek and was turning away hurriedly to look after my detachment when I heard a shot and Blacksmith Carey said: “Captain, the man ain’t dead yet,” and I saw that he had shot him. The horses remained back where the men were dismounted. After examining the creek and ravine below, I called for the led horses. The road led down the valley of the creek, which was narrow, crooked and full of brush. The road passed right near where the bodies were, within a few feet of them.[7]

Major Vroom next asked Captain Godfrey, “Did you notice that the flesh or clothing of any one of the bodies was burned?” Godfrey replied, “I did not, nor do I believe that my men were close enough for the bodies to be powder-burned by their fire, except in the case of the boy. I took the boy to be about fifteen or sixteen years of age.” Major Vroom followed up with, “How thick was the brush at the place where the Indians were found?”[8] Godfrey responded with:

It was such that I did not see them at any time until I went up to the bodies. I am satisfied that the men did not know at what they were firing except that they were Indian, because Sergeant Gunther, as soon as he heard the wail of the child, dropped the butt of his gun on the ground, leaned his weight on it and shook his head in a sorrowful manner. Blacksmith Carey was a recruit who had joined us three weeks before, and when he shot a thought went through my mind that he had evidently heard of the ruses and desperation of wounded Indians. It is a well-known fact that old soldiers take no chances with wounded Indians. In conversation with Captain Baldwin, subsequent to his report of the burial of the bodies, he said that the boy had but one gun shot. Of course then the boy had not been hit in the first firing.[9]

Major Vroom concluded his interview with Captain Godfrey with one final question. “Did your detachment move or handle the bodies at all?” Godfrey answered:

They did not. I have understood from parties who were present, and also from a letter of a newspaper correspondent who was present with Captain Baldwin at the time of the burial that the position of the bodies had been changed after a snow had fallen on them, and it is my belief that if the bodies were powder-burned it was done by some parties subsequent to the day of the fight with malicious intent and purpose to deceive. The fight took place on the 29th of December, 1890.[10]

Major Vroom next began interviewing the enlisted men involved in the shooting. Vroom’s time in the 3rd Cavalry would bode well for one of the soldiers who was also a veteran of the 3rd. Herman Gunther, a native of Baden, Germany, was an experienced forty-five-year-old cavalryman and the senior non-commissioned officer of Captain Godfrey’s D troop. He initially entered the army in 1868 as a young twenty-two-year-old jeweler from New York City. He served for fifteen years in C troop, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, and was discharged from that unit in November 1883 at Fort Thomas, Arizona Territory, having risen to the rank of first sergeant. After six months working as a butcher in St. Louis, Gunther signed up for his fourth five-year enlistment and was assigned to the 7th Cavalry’s D troop. Rising again to first sergeant of his unit by the time D troop arrived at Wounded Knee, First Sergeant Gunther along with Captain Godfrey, ensured that D troop was ably led by two veteran cavalrymen, both with more than two decades in the saddle.[11]

Major Vroom recorded the following statement from First Sergeant Gunther regarding the shooting at White Horse Creek.

Captain Godfrey with one platoon was following a party of Indians that got away from the battle-field and went up a deep ravine leading toward the hills. We were trying to cut them off. The Indians were seen several times by us, but always in such a way that we could not get at them. I should judge that there were about fifteen Indians in that party. When we got to the head of the ravine, we halted. Captain Godfrey and myself then examined the country around closely with field glasses, but were unable to see any signs of the Indians. After staying there quite a while Captain Godfrey started back with the platoon. Just as we were coming around a bend in the road leading down into the bottom, I saw some Indians dodging into the brush. My impression at the time was that we were on to the party of Indians that we had been following up. I called Captain Godfrey’s attention to it, saying to look out as we were right on top of them. The Captain ordered myself and several men to dismount and move forward. At the same time the Captain sung out “How Colah.” In moving ahead Private Kern, who was off his horse quicker than I was, got ahead of me a few paces. I noticed Private Kern raise his carbine and on looking in that direction I saw Indians that were hiding in the bottom of a dry creek. I was unable to distinguish what they were, the brush being so thick Private Kern fired the first shot. I fired immediately after him. As soon as I fired there was some screaming done by a child. The captain then sung out again “How Colah,” and said “Don’t kill any squaws.” I replied that I was afraid it was too late. I am positive that the object I aimed at did not move after I fired. The one that done the squealing was behind the object and must have been wounded by my ball. I then sent Private Kern to the right of me on some high ground with instructions to watch the brush from up there. Myself and Private Settle, who had come up in the meantime, went through the brush down the creek, but we did not find any more Indians. I had not been closer than from twenty to twenty-five yards to the Indians we shot at.[12]

Major Vroom than asked the first sergeant if he could distinctly see the Indians when he fired.

I could just see the outline of something lying close to the ground. The brush was very thick. It was thicker between me and the Indians than it was between Kern and the Indians. I had to fire right through the brush. After I fired I went down the creek and did not see the bodies of the Indians. The captain told me that there was one woman and three children in there killed. There were only three shots fired, one by myself and two by Private Kern. After I got a little way down the creek I heard another shot fired in our rear, but I did not know at the time who fired it.[13]

In the course of Major Vroom’s investigation into the killing of a Lakota woman and her three children, he next interviewed Blacksmith Maurice Carey, a twenty-three-year-old emigrant from Northern Ireland who had enlisted in the army at Wheeling, West Virginia, in the middle of September 1890. He was one of the new recruits that joined the regiment at Pine Ridge at the beginning of December. Carey was a horseshoer by trade prior to entering the military and Captain Godfrey appointed him to the vacant blacksmith position in D troop in the middle of December. Carey had light blue eyes, light brown hair, a fair complexion and stood five feet eight and a half inches tall. He provided Major Vroom with the following statement.[14]

We were going through a ravine and saw a party of Indians trying to cross. Then we were dismounted and I ran back about twenty yards and fired a shot and then I went up over the bluff and came down to the captain. Then we were looking at those Indians and I caught one by the hair and lifted him up. He looked at me and pulled himself away and made a movement and I jumped away from him and shot him through the head. I shot him because I was afraid he was going to shoot me.[15]

When asked how old the Indian was, Carey responded, “I took him to be seventeen or eighteen years old. He was pretty tall. I took him to be as tall as me.” Major Vroom next asked the blacksmith how close he was to the Indian when he shot. “I could not say.” replied Carey. “I jumped away from him as quickly as I could and then shot him.” “Was he lying on the ground when you shot him?” queried the investigator. “Yes, sir.” was the answer. The inspector general concluded the interview by asking, “How long have you been in the service?” to which Carey replied, “A little over six months.”[16]

Major Vroom next interviewed Private William Kern, a twenty-three-year-old German emigrant who had been working as a baker when he enlisted at Newark, New Jersey, two years earlier. Kern was short in stature standing just five feet four inches with hazel eyes and brown hair. Private Kern provided the following statement:

After the shooting at Wounded Knee was over, we were ordered by Captain Godfrey to mount our horses and follow up a ravine. We followed that ravine along and came upon open ground, where we saw an Indian about two miles ahead of us. After we had looked over the ground carefully, we could not see any signs of other Indians and turned off to our right going down towards a big ravine full of underbrush and a road leading through the ravine from one end to the other. As soon as we came down the ravine the road bent to the left. As soon as we came around that bend we seen Indians. Captain Godfrey was riding in front and me and 1st Sergeant Gunther right behind him. Then we caught a glimpse of one Indian who appeared to be a buck. As soon as he saw us he jumped from the road and Captain Godfrey halted the command and told Sergeant Gunther to dismount and take some men and be prepared. There was me and Private Settle and Sergeant Gunther dismounted. The rest of the troop was sent out to the right and left of the ravine. As soon as we were dismounted, Captain Godfrey hallooed out twice: “How Colah,” and while he hallooed out “How Colah,” I was ahead and 1st Sergeant Gunther following me on the right side of the ravine in a kind of a washout, and we could see the head of an Indian twenty-five yards away. Captain Godfrey didn’t get any answer. By that time I had loaded up and Sergeant Gunther the same. I fired first and Sergeant Gunther Immediately after me. As soon as I had fired I reloaded again. I heard an Indian grunting, but it was too late for me to stop and I pulled off my second shot. Sergeant Gunther ordered me then to go along the ravine and search careful and he says he expects a lot of Indians in that ravine. Private Settle came on the left of me to help search the ravine. We went through that ravine carefully and couldn’t find nothing else. There was a log house in front of us on top, and we went up and searched that.[17]

Inspector General Vroom asked Private Kern if he could distinctly see what he was aiming at when he fired at the Indians, to which Kern responded, “I could see a head that I was aiming at. The Indians were lying down in the same washout that we were in. The underbrush was very thick. I did not see the Indians after they had been killed.” Major Vroom concluded the interview by asking Kern how far he was from the Indians when he fired. “About twenty-five yards, just the width of the ravine.” was Kern’s reply.[18]

The final witness that Major Vroom questioned was Private Green Adam Settle, a thirty-one-year-old native Kentuckian. He had served for three years with the Fifth Cavalry at Camp Supply, Indian Territory, in the mid 1880s and enlisted into the 7th Cavalry in January 1889. According to his most recent enlistment record, Private Settle stood just under five feet nine inches, had gray eyes, light hair and a fair complexion. Settle provided the following account to the inspector.

Coming down the ravine Captain Godfrey was leading the detachment, Sergeant Gunther was next to Captain Godfrey, Private Kern and myself were first in column. There were some Indians, I could not say how many, that appeared right in front of us in the road, and some one from behind had seen the Indian first and cried out: “There is Indians ahead of us.” The captain didn’t seem to see them at first and I didn’t see them till some one spoke. As soon as I saw them I only saw one, and he ran across the road into the under brush. The captain ordered the 1st Sergeant to dismount some men and go ahead. Sergeant Gunther, Private Kern and myself was the three men to dismount. Kern was in front, Sergeant Gunther was next to him and I was last. Private Kern moved on to where he saw the Indian run out of the road and fired two shots into a little ravine where the Indians had hid. Sergeant Gunther fired one shot and we then moved on down the ravine. There was a road running down the ravine and I was on the left side of the road as we went and Kern was on the right. We went on out as far as the brush was thick until it began to get open, to an old house. After we had looked around there, the detachment came up and we mounted our horses and went away.[19]

Major Vroom asked Settle if he could see the Indians when Private Kern and First Sergeant Gunther fired.

No, sir. There was a kind of dry creek or ravine that they were in that must have been twenty-five yards from the road. The underbrush and grass were very thick. I was about twenty-five yards from Sergeant Gunther and Private Kern when they fired. I did not see what they fired at. I did not see the Indians after they came out of the road. After the shots were fired, Captain Godfrey advanced toward where the Indians were and called out “How Colah.” Then he told Gunther to send men on down and search out the ravine. I went on down the ravine and did not see any more Indians. I did not see the bodies of the Indians that had been killed.[20]

Having questioned all of the soldiers involved in the incident, Major Vroom concluded his investigation with a summation of testimony he had collected. Writing on March 24, 1891, from the Inspector General’s Office, Department of the Missouri in St. Louis, Vroom forwarded the following report through department headquarters to the adjutant general’s office at the War Department.

It appears from the evidence adduced that on the 29th of December, 1890, immediately after the fight at Wounded Knee Creek, Captain E. S. Godfrey, 7th Cavalry, with a detachment of his troop, was in pursuit of a party of about fifteen Indians, who had escaped from the battle-field, and were making their way through a deep ravine toward the hills. On his return, while moving down along the valley of what he subsequently learned to be White Horse Creek, it was reported to Captain Godfrey that Indians had been seen in his front in the creek bottom. Captain Godfrey halted his detachment, dismounted half of it and ordered a non-commissioned officer to take some men and deploy them across the valley of the creek, while the other dismounted men were sent to the left on the high ground. While his men were deploying, Captain Godfrey called out several times to the Indians: “Squaw,” “Pappoose,” “Colah,” and tried in every way to indicate to them that if they were squaws or children they had nothing to fear. The men of the troop had previously been particularly cautioned against shooting squaws and children and when they were ready to advance on this occasion the caution was repeated. First Sergeant Herman Gunther was in charge of the squad directed to move down the ravine. After waiting for sometime to give the men on the left time to get into position, and also to receive responses from the Indian, Captain Godfrey ordered his non-commissioned officers to move their squads forward very carefully. The men under Sergeant Gunther advanced close to the ground and soon commenced firing. Captain Godfrey, hearing the wail of a child, called to them to stop firing, but they had already stopped. The party was then about twenty-five or thirty yards from where the Indians were found to be. Captain Godfrey immediately went forward to where the bodies were and found a boy, a squaw and two children lying there, the squaw and children dead, and the boy, who was lying on his face, apparently so. At this juncture, Blacksmith Maurice Carey, who after the first firing had gone around on top of a high bluff, from which he could see the dead Indians in the creek bottom, joined Captain Godfrey. As the latter turned away to look after his detachment, Blacksmith Carey took hold of the Indian boy’s head to lift him up. As he did so, the boy opened his eyes and made a movement that evidently frightened Carey, who jumped back and shot him through the head. Blacksmith Carey states that he shot the Indian because he was afraid the Indian would shoot him.
But five shots were fired during this affair, one by Sergeant Gunther, two by Blacksmith Carey and two by Private Kern. The evidence shows that the brush in the creek bottom was very thick and that the men could not distinctly see what they were firing at. The Indians were evidently lying down and close together when shot. With the exception of the last shot fired by Blacksmith Carey, which killed the Indian boy, all of the shots were fired at distances of from twenty to thirty yards, precluding the possibility of the person or clothing of every Indian having been powder-burned.
The whole affair lasted but a few moments. The men were excited and there seems to be no doubt that they believed that the Indians seen belonged to the party they had pursued from the battle-field. The killing of the woman and children was unfortunate, but there is nothing to show that it was deliberate or intentional. First Sergeant Gunther is an old soldier of the 3d Cavalry and has been personally known to me for many years. That he would deliberately shoot down women and children I do not believe. Blacksmith Carey is a recruit and at the time of this occurrence had been but three weeks with his troop. As suggested by Captain Godfrey, it is probable that his action in killing the Indian boy was prompted by what he had heard from old soldiers of the ruses and desperation of wounded Indians. Opinions differ as to the age of the Indian boy. Captain Godfrey thinks that his age was 16 or 17 years, while Blacksmith Carey states that he was 18 or 19 years old and as tall as himself.[21]

Major General John M. Schofield, Commanding General of the Army, endorsed Major Vroom’s report on April 2 adding, “In my judgment no further action is required in this case.” The report was marked “Seen by the Secretary of War” and filed with the Adjutant General’s Office.[22]

The following November Captain Baldwin wrote to the infantry officer who had accompanied him the previous January when the bodies were discovered and buried. Captain Thomas H. Barry, who in January was a First Lieutenant in K Company, 1st Infantry, responded to Captain Baldwin on November 24, 1891.

On Tuesday January the 20th, 1891, in command of a detachment of thirty (30) mounted men of the First Infantry, I left Pine Ridge Agency S.D., at 7.30 O’Clock A.M., and proceeded to White Horse creek, where I arrived at 10.00 O’Clock A.M., and there found the bodies of four dead Indians – a squaw and her three children, one a boy about ten years old, and two little girls, one about eight and the other about six years of age. The squaw was shot under the right shoulder blade, there being no exit wound, the little boy was shot on the left side of the head, the ball coming out under the right eye, the hair where the bullet entered being singed; the little girl who had fallen in front of her mother, was shot in the right breast, the ball coming out at lower left side of the back, and the little girl—the youngest child—who fell just to the right of her mother, and who at the time, must have been hanging to her skirts, was shot in the back, the ball coming out at the right breast. All the shots ranged downwards. About two feet to the left and a little in rear of the squaw an empty cartridge shell marked F-88-9 was found. The position of the bodies indicated that they had been shot at the same time and from above, the result of a volley delivered near enough to them to have power-burned each. The print of the hoof of an American horse shod with “Goodenough” shoe was found in the road about thirty yards down the creek. Red Hawk, brother of the squaw, an Agency policeman, accompanied us and at his request the bodies were buried on the hill above and a little in front of where they were found. The above is taken from notes made by me at the time and copied into my diary upon my return to camp at Pine Ridge Agency. The squaw and her children were evidently making their way from the “Wounded Knee” battle field to the Pine Ridge Agency by an out-of-the-way and not usually travelled [sic] route, when they were discovered and killed. They were skulking through the brush along the White Horse creek, having left the road to avoid detection by their pursuers, whom they undoubtedly saw or heard. No weapon or anything resembling one, was found on or near the bodies.[23]

Hand written on the back of the letter, possibly by Captain Baldwin or General Miles, was the following notation, “Angel Island, Cal., Nov. 24, 1891. Capt. Thomas H. Barry. Statement as to condition of woman and children powder burned when shot near Wounded Knee Creek, S.D.” The letter was not forwarded to the War Department and the investigation remained closed.[24]

More than a decade following the Pine Ridge campaign, E. S. Godfrey, by then a Colonel, was actively seeking promotion to flag officer rank. He wrote to the Adjutant General of the Army in July 1902, “to request that I be appointed a Brigadier General.” President Roosevelt held a negative view of Wounded Knee, and after reviewing General Miles’s investigation, he had determined that Godfrey was personally responsible for the killing of non-combatants at Wounded Knee and would never be promoted again in a Roosevelt administration.[25]

A common practice in the Army at that time was that prominent citizens would conduct a writing campaign to the War Department and the President on behalf of a colonel they endorsed for promotion. In 1903 U.S. Senator Levi Ankeny from the state of Washington, where Colonel Godfrey was stationed at Fort Walla Walla, wrote to the President seeking a generalship for Godfrey.  President Roosevelt apparently responded suggesting that the Senator reconsider based on Godfrey’s role in the killing of women and children at Wounded Knee. The senator decided to look into the matter himself, contacting officers who knew the circumstances surrounding Wounded Knee and requesting Colonel Godfrey provide him his version of events. Colonel Godfrey responded to the senator with a letter saying, “While I am deeply grateful that you should, unsolicited, feel enough personal interest in me to request my advancement, words cannot express my appreciation of the kindness which gives me an opportunity to defend myself when I had no idea that a defense was necessary.” Included with the colonel’s letter was a five-page manuscript that Godfrey typed and signed on December 31, 1903. His account was similar to earlier testimony and differed only in that Godfrey recalled that his soldiers discharged their weapons only after he gave the command “commence firing” and promptly ceased firing on Godfrey’s command.  He stressed that dead leaves on the brush obscured his and the soldiers’ view such that they knew they were firing at Indians, but could not tell they were women or children.[26] Godfrey also related details after Captain Baldwin and Lieutenant Barry found and buried the bodies.  Following is the latter portion of Godfrey’s 1903 manuscript.

Sometime after the investigation had closed Lieut. T. H. Barry… came to my tent and told me he had commanded the escort to take Capt. Baldwin out to where my men had killed the squaw and children; that there were tracks of persons in the snow around and near where the bodies were found, that all the bodies were powder marked. I think he said the bodies had been moved from their original positiond [sic], but the places where they had been could be plainly distinguished in the snow. My recollection is that he said on their way back to Pine Ridge Baldwin asked him what he, Barry, thought about it and that Barry was non-committal. Then Baldwin said, to this effect, “It looks pretty bad but I don’t know that I blame him,” meaning me. Barry said he told me this as it might be important for me to do something about it. I said that I had testified to about all that was to be said before the Court of Inquiry and said it was impossible that the squaw and girls could be powder marked when killed….
It afterwards appeared that some newspaper correspondents were taken along (in fact it was a newspaper expedition) so that the horrors and brutalities etc., could be properly verified and exploited to the world. One of the correspondents was George H. Harris [sic: Harries], of the Washington Eve-Star.
I don’t believe (but of course cannot be positive) that Barry knew the objects of the expedition–but I think he had a suspicion and hence his warning to me. I relied on the integrity of the affair and supposed integrity of the investigation. I was not aware of the attendance of newspaper correspondents.
I was severly injured in a [rail road] wreck on our return to Fort Riley and never saw the correspondence, nor did I ever see anything of Baldwin’s report. Nothing was said to me by any one at Pine Ridge up to the day of our departure by Miles, Baldwin or correspondents.
The 7th Cavlary left Pine Ridge about January 21. After we had been on the march for several miles, an orderly was sent to me saying General Miles wanted to see me. I reported at Pine Ridge and he (Miles) said the bodies of a squaw and children had been found and it was believed they had bend [sic] killed by my men. I related the circumstances and told him I had testified the whole matter to the Court of Inquiry. He then went on to say how he thought they had been killed, etc., that my men had crawled up over an embankment behind them and shooting down had killed them as they were hiding under this bank; that my men were so close that the bodies were all powder burned. I told him my men had not crawled up behind them and that it was impossible for the woman and girls to be powder burned. I said that I could not see them at all and that my men were between 35 and 50 yards away and could not distinguish what they were on account of the bushes with dead leaves, but could only get a glimpse of their positions. He said there were not enough bushes there to interfere and that my men were close enough to powder burn them. I replied that I was there and knew what I was talking about and if the woman and girls were power burned it was done by somebody else and not by my men–That I and my men regretted it as much as any body could, but it was a misfortune and not wanton. That when I heard the wail of those children, I could only think of my own little children at my home.
The investigation then stopped. He asked after my personal affairs and the interview closed.
I had not a thought when I quitted his presence but that I had fully established the innocence of myself and my men from anything wanton or brutal. General Miles in his report of the campaigns or the review of the action of my regiment charged to the effect that my men had been guilty of wanton creulty in the killing of the woman and children but that I was not responsible. It exonerated me from blame, but held my men responsible….
I was not satisfied to be exonerated myself and have my men held to blame and was consulting some of my friends as to the best procedure as soon as I should be able to attend to the matter. While I was still in the Hospital at Fort Riley, Kans., Major P. D. Vroom… came to Fort Riley and investigated the whole matter, taking the testimony of myself and all the men engaged in the valley who did any shooting and perhaps others. I never saw his report, but I was given to understand that he exonerated both my men and myself. It must have been so, for nothing further was said or done about it that I ever heard of….
While I was on sick leave I was ordered to Washington…. Not long afterward I got a letter from Capt. Barry… saying he had received a letter from Capt. Baldwin… asking him to give him his recollections of what they had seen when they went out to visit the scene of the killing of the woman and children by my troop. Barry said he didn’t know Baldwin’s purpose in making this request but thought he should let me know of it.
I went to Col. J. S. Gilmore, A. A. G., then in the War Department related the circumstances from beginning to end and asked him to let me know if there was anything in the Department that was derogatory to me or my men in that affair that was not satisfactorily explained. He said he would investigate and let me know. After several days he told me there seemed to be nothing, and that everthing [sic] was all right; that if anything came up or came in he would let me know. He assured me on several occasions that nothing had come up.[27]

Senator Ankeny forwarded Colonel Godfrey’s manuscript along with another letter to President Roosevelt again recommending Godfrey be promoted. No such promotion was forthcoming. There is another letter of interest in Edward Godfrey’s file in the National Archive’s regarding President Roosevelt’s refusal to promote the cavalry colonel.  From his retirement home in Columbus, Ohio, Major General James W. Forsyth wrote on June 22, 1904, to the Secretary of War, William H. Taft.

I have heard, through friends in Washington, that information had been given to the President, of such a character as to cause him to conclude that Colonel E. S. Godfrey, of the Regular Army, had been “harsh, cruel, and even brutal,” at the fight at Wounded Knee, with the Sioux Indians, by the 7th cavalry, which regiment I commanded at the time, and that on Colonel Godfrey’s efficiency record an entry had been made charging him with the wanton killing of women and children at Wounded Knee.
My regiment and I had the misfortune to incur the enmity and disapproval of General Miles on that occasion, and a long and tedious investigation occurred at the time, covering all the allegations made by General Miles, including the accusation of the unnecessary killing of women and children, which I presume is referred to in the present reflections upon the character and record of Colonel Godfrey.
It was an entirely one-sided investigation, in which absolutely no defense was made by either myself or the 7th cavalry, and notwithstanding this fact we were completely exonerated, not only by the then commanding general of the army, General Schofield, but by the then Secretary of War, Mr. Proctor. So far as my knowledge goes, even the report of General Miles did not hold Colonel Godfrey personally responsible for the unfortunate and unintentional killing of some women and children by members of his troop during the engagement as above mentioned.
At any rate, this occurrence was subsequently investigated by Colonel Peter Vroom, Inspector General, who exonerated Colonel Godferey from any personal culpapbility or responsibility for the said killing of women and children.
I have known Colonel Godfrey for a long time, and I assure you that harshness, cruelty, and brutality are entirely foreign to and inconsistent with his real character. I always esteemed him as one of the best officers in my regiment, and one of the best and worthiest in the service.
All of the investigations mentioned above are fully covered by records which must now be on file in the War Department, and I sincerely trust that you will find time to look over these records carefully, and that erroneous impressions or unjustifiable entries on his record will not be permitted to do grave injustice to a worthy soldier.
I take much pleasure in cordially recommending Colonel Godfrey for advancement in the service. I have no personal interest whatever in this matter, and this letter is a voluntary effort to vindicate a former worthy subordinate, and has not been solicited either directly or indirectly by Colonel Godfrey, who knows nothing about my writing this letter.[28]

Roosevelt eventually did promote Godfrey to brigadier general in 1907 likely based on the counsel of Major General J. Franklin Bell, Chief of Staff of the Army and fellow former 7th Cavalry officer who had served with Godfrey during the Pine Ridge campaign. However, the promotion came in Godfrey’s sixty-fourth year when he would be retired by law, and, thus, not be eligible for promotion to major general. In 1931 at the request of the Chief of Staff of the Historical Section of the U.S. Army War College, General Godfrey wrote a letter recounting his reminiscences of Wounded Knee and White Horse Creek. With only slight variations, his recollection was in line with his 1891 testimony and his 1903 manuscript.[29]

Regarding the lives of the other individuals involved in the White Horse Creek tragedy, Blacksmith Maurice Carey, the Irishman from Wheeling, West Virginia, was discharged from the army at Fort Riley for disability in January 1892 with a characterization of service of ‘excellent.’ His life after the army is lost to history.[30]

Private William Kern, the German emigrant from Newark, New Jersey, was shot in the face during the Drexel Mission fight along the White Clay Creek the day after the Wounded Knee battle. Kern drowned on September 20, 1891, while fishing in the Kansas River, still assigned to D troop at Fort Riley. The army ruled his death was not in the line of duty. He was buried in the Fort Riley Post Cemetery.[31]

Green A. Settle is buried in A. R. Dyche Memorial Park at London, Kentucky.[32]

Private Green A. Settle of Jackson County, Kentucky, continued his service with the 7th Cavalry. During the Spanish American War, he served as the first sergeant of troop H, in the 1st U. S. Volunteer Cavalry, the Rough Riders, which was one of the elements of the regiment that did not go to Cuba. After the war and seventeen years in the cavalry, he settled in London, Kentucky, where he worked as a barber. About 1903 he married twenty-one-year old Annie Reams and they had six children together. Green Settle died in 1946 and his wife 1969.[33]

First Sergeant Herman Gunther and his wife, Emma, are buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery.[35]

First Sergeant Herman Gunther enlisted two more times ultimately retiring on June 19, 1899, at Fort Riley, Kansas, after thirty years of service. At the time of his retirement he was still serving as D troop’s first sergeant. He married eighteen-year-old Emma Kramer, a dress maker from Junction City, Kansas, in 1892. The Gunther’s settled in San Antonio, Texas. They had one son, Arthur, born in 1895. Herman Gunther died in 1931, Emma in 1945.[34]

The names of the children of Walks-Carrying-the-Red, her son and two daughters who were shot and killed along White Horse Creek at the hands of the cavalrymen of D troop, remain unrecorded, their bodies resting in unmarked graves where they were buried with their mother by Captain Baldwin and Lieutenant Barry’s party on January 21, 1891, three weeks after their deaths.[36]

Red-Hawk was photographed numerous times by several renowned western photographers. This photo was taken by Edward S. Curtis, circa 1913.

Red-Hawk was photographed numerous times by several renowned western photographers. This photo was taken by Edward S. Curtis, circa 1913.

Austin Red-Hawk, the Oglala policeman who discovered the bodies of his sister, nephew, and nieces and brought the burial party to their location on White Horse Creek, later served as a corporal in Detachment D, U.S. Indian Scouts. Born in 1854, he was 22 when he helped defend his village against the 7th Cavalry along the Greasy Grass, a river the soldiers called the Little Big Horn. He lived the remainder of his life at Pine Ridge with his wife, Alice, their three children, Susie, James, and Noah, and his other sister, Cedar-Woman. In his last years, he received a pension from the government for his service as a scout. Red-Hawk died in 1928.[37]

[1] Kent and Baldwin Investigation, 732-733.
[2] George H. Harries, “A Prairie Tragedy: How a Sioux Squaw and Her Three Little Ones Met Death,” Evening Star (Washington, D. C.: 27 Jan 1891), 6.
[3] Kent and Baldwin Investigation, 767.
[4] Peter D. Vroom, “Investigation of circumstances connected with shooting of an Indian woman and three children by U.S. Troops near the scene of the battle of Wounded Knee Creek,” in Reports and Correspondence Related to the Army Investigations of the Battle at Wounded Knee and to the Sioux Campaign of 1890–1891, the National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington: The National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1975), Roll 1, Target 3, Jan. 1891, 1136.
[5] Ibid., 1139-1140.
[6] Adjutant General’s Office, Official Army Register for 1912, (Washington: War Department, 1912), 478.
[7] Ibid., 1145-1147.
[8] Ibid., 1147-1148.
[9] Ibid., 1148.
[10] Ibid., 1148-1149.
[11] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C., 
[12] Vroom Investigation, 1149-1151.
[13] Ibid., 1151.
[14] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, Years: 1885-1890, Range: A-D, Page: 255, Line: 304.
[15] Vroom Investigation, 1151.
[16] Ibid., 1152.
[17] Ibid., 1152.
[18] Ibid., 1153.
[19] Ibid., 1153-1154.
[20] Ibid., 1154-1155.
[21] Ibid., 1142-1145.
[22] Ibid., 1441.
[23] Thomas H. Barry, letter to Frank D. Baldwin dated 24 Nov 1891, Nelson A. Miles Papers (Carlisle, PA: Military History Institute), box 4, Sioux War, 1890-1891 Wounded Knee, Pullman Strike, Commanding General.
[24] Ibid.
[25] NARA M1395, Letters Received by the Appointment Commission and Personal (ACP) Branch, within the Adjutant General’s Office, 1871-1894 (Record Group 94), Roll: M1395_Gillmore-Granger, File Number: 6626 ACP 1876, Name: Godfrey, Edward S., 288-604.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid. Edward S. Godfrey’s manuscript that he mailed to Senator Ankeny was later published in The 1963 All Posse-Corral Book of the Denver Posse of the Westerners with an introduction and biographical details by Barry C. Johnson, page 66-72. Following article was a republished lecture by George H. Harries describing his work as a correspondent during the campaign, including much of the text from his article quoted in this post. Barry C. Johnson republished his article with Godfrey’s manuscript in the April-July 1977 Brand Book vol. 19, page 1-13.
[28] Ibid., 629-630.
[29] Associated Press, “Brig. Gen. Godfrey Retired,” The Sun (New York: 10 Oct 1907), 2; Peter Cozzens, ed., Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars, 1865-1890, (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2004), 615-619.
[30] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, Years: 1885-1890, Range: A-D, Page: 255, Line: 304.
[31] Ibid., Page: 331, Line: 34; National Archives and Records Administration, Burial Registers of Military Posts and National Cemeteries, compiled ca. 1862-ca. 1960, Archive Number: 44778151, Series: A1 627, Record Group Title: Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985, Record Group Number: 92.
[32] Stephen and Andrea Brangan, “Green Adam Settle,” FindAGrave, ( accessed 23 May 2014. Uploaded 1 June 2012.
[33] Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, Years: 1893-1897, Range: L-Z, Page: 92, Line: 56;, U.S., Spanish American War Volunteers, 1898 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012, Original data: General Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers who Served During the War with Spain, Microfilm publication M871, 126 rolls, ARC ID: 654543, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917, Record Group 94;, United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004, Year: 1900, Census Place: London, Laurel, Kentucky, Roll: 537, Page: 1A, Enumeration District: 0147, FHL microfilm: 1240537;, Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1953 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.
[34], United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004, Year: 1900, Census Place: San Antonio Ward 6, Bexar, Texas, Roll: 1611, Page: 12A, Enumeration District: 0100, FHL microfilm: 1241611; Year: 1910, Census Place: San Antonio Ward 6, Bexar, Texas, Roll: T624_1531, Page: 8A, Enumeration District: 0048, FHL microfilm: 1375544; Year: 1930, Census Place: San Antonio, Bexar, Texas, Roll: 2296, Page: 25B, Enumeration District: 0105, Image: 556.0, FHL microfilm: 2342030; Year: 1940, Census Place: San Antonio, Bexar, Texas, Roll: T627_4205, Page: 10B, Enumeration District: 259-143; “Kansas, Marriages, 1840-1935,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 30 May 2014), Herman Gunther and Emma Kramer, 14 Jul 1892, citing Junction City, Geary, Kansas, reference p 159; FHL microfilm 1685972;, Texas, Death Certificates, 1903–1982 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013, Original data: Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas Death Certificates, 1903–1982. iArchives, Orem, Utah,, U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012, Original data: Interment Control Forms, 1928–1962, Interment Control Forms, A1 2110-B. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92, The National Archives at College Park, College Park, Maryland.
[35] Laura T., “Herman Gunther,” FindAGrave, ( accessed 23 May 2014. Uploaded 24 Apr 2013.
[36] The Westerners Brand Book, vol 19, 1963, page 82 provides detail as to the identity of the Lakota woman, “Mother and children were not divided even in death, Prone, and with the right side of her face frozen to the solid earth was the squaw ‘Walks-Carrying-The-Red.’ Snow almost covered an extended arm and filled the creases in the little clothing she wore. Piled up alongside of her were her little ones, the youngest with nothing to cover its ghastly nakedness but a calf buffalo robe.”
[37], U.S., Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940 (Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007), Year: 1904; Roll: M595_369; Page: 62; Line: 6, Agency: Pine Ridge;, United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004), Year: 1900, Census Place: Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Shannon, South Dakota, Roll: 1556, Enumeration District: 0046, FHL microfilm: 1241556; Year: 1910, Census Place: Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Wounded Knee, South Dakota, Roll: T624_1475, Page: 26A, Enumeration District: 0119, FHL microfilm: 1375488; Year: 1920, Census Place: Township 40, Washington, South Dakota, Roll: T625_1725, Page: 5A, Enumeration District: 214, Image: 1125; National Archives and Records Administration, U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 (Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000), Name: Redhawk, State Filed: South Dakota, Widow: Alice Red-Hawk, Roll number: T288_387;, South Dakota, Death Index, 1879-1955 (Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2004), Certificate Number: 116041, Page Number: 782; Edward S. Curtis, photo., from (, posted 3 Dec 2009, accessed 14 Jan 2017.
Note: An earlier version of this essay was posted on 23 May 2014. It has been updated to include information originally posted in “Testimony of Captain Edward Settle Godfrey, Commander, D Troop, 7th Cavalry,” the letter from Captain Thomas H. Barry, and files from Godfrey’s personnel file including his 1903 manuscript of the tragedy at White Horse Creek. Block quotes of the troopers earlier depositions dated 12 Feb 1891 were removed as they were redundant to the testimony provided to Major Vroom and already presented.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Investigation of the White Horse Creek Tragedy,” Army at Wounded Knee (Sumter, SC: Russell Martial Research, 2013-2014,, posted 18 January 2017, accessed _______.

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The Unpublished Manuscript of Major L. S. McCormick, 7th Cavalry

The Indians broke in the general direction of their village and endeavored to penetrate the line of Troops “B” and “K”, but the soldiers stood their ground and returned the fire to the best of their ability.

Note: In December 1890, Loyd Stone McCormick was serving as a First Lieutenant and the 7th Cavalry’s Regimental Adjutant, at Wounded Knee. McCormick wrote this unpublished manuscript in 1904 while serving as a Major in the 7th Cavalry. Some years after writing this manuscript McCormick stated, “I did this more to get the result of the investigation of General Forsyth (then Colonel of the regiment) in a tangible shape than for any other reason.” Based on that statement McCormick likely had access to and used the reports and correspondence associated with the investigation as the basis of his manuscript. However, as he did not cite sources, did not publish the manuscript in any professional journal or magazine, and wrote it fourteen years after the battle, I have categorized this account as Reminiscences. I originally posted McCormick’s account in three parts in January 2014. It is posted now in its entirety.

First Lieutenant Loyd S. McCormick, Regimental Adjutant, 7th Cavalry, at Pine Ridge Agency, 16 Jan. 1891. Cropped from John C. H. Grabill’s photograph, “The Fighting 7th Officers.”

First Lieutenant Loyd S. McCormick, Regimental Adjutant, 7th Cavalry, at Pine Ridge Agency, 16 Jan. 1891. Cropped from John C. H. Grabill’s photograph, “The Fighting 7th Officers.”

December 29th and 30th, 1890

An account of the conditions and events which precede the collecting of United States forces at several places in South Dakota during the fall and winter of 1890-91, will be necessary in order that the reader may understand the peculiarities of the problem which was presented for solution, and the difficulties to be encountered in a real effort to meet the emergency.

During the late summer and fall of 1890, the Indians throughout the country, but particularly those at the agencies in North and South Dakota, had shown signs of unrest. In many cases they had refused to obey their agents and, generally, had adopted a very arrogant bearing. The cause of this change was not at first apparent, and the authorities, as a rule, were puzzled to account for it. Although it was known in a general way that the Indians were engaging in some unusual ceremonies, it was well into the fall before the more serious aspects of the matter appealed to the military authorities. By this time fanatic zeal had so possessed a large number of Indians that there was a general belief that a Messiah was soon to appear, and that with him would be a return of the buffalo, a resurrection of dead Indians, and the annihilation of the white man. A feverish excitement pervaded most of the agencies, and different Medicine Men took advantage of this condition to so play on the feelings of the savages as to convince a large percentage that the rule of the white man could easily be terminated. Such a desirable change appealed strongly to their superstitious natures, and when the Indians had been worked up to the top notch of ardor, the announcement was made that the bullets of the white men could not harm them if they would wear the “Ghost Shirt.” The material of which these were made was the unbleached muslin issued to the Indians at the agencies; but the shirt must be made up by certain squaws designated by the Medicine Men of each band. These shirts sold for five dollars each, and it was thought by not a few that the trade in shirts was sufficient stimulae to unusual efforts in convincing the deluded savages that by means of the shirt alone could they hope to reap the benefits to accrue as soon as the Messiah should appear.

With such a sentiment prevailing, it is not to be wondered at that agents, who had had little or no experience in handling Indians should be amazed at their surly and impudent demeanor; and that some of them should jump to the conclusion that a general war was to be proclaimed by the Red Man. A few of the agents had the nerve to meet the emergency in a partly effective manner, but many of them seemed helpless and at a loss to institute any measures to counteract the tendencies. And it is a question whether these could have been wholly overcome, and a more or less serious conflict averted. The religious element was the most potent factor in this fanatic zeal and ardor; and it is well known that, from the earliest times, such a disturbance has been the most difficult to overcome.

Although this feverish unrest had, to a certain extent, taken possession of the Indians at all the agencies of the country, those in the northwest had been much more generally affected than those south of the Union Pacific Railroad–due possibly to the less interrupted communication. There is kept up between all of the northern agencies an almost continual connection by means of Indian runners, and so-called hunting parties. This disaffection was rapidly reaching an acute stage, when the agent at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, deserted his post and asked for military protection, asserting that the Indians at his agency had become intractable. This was one of the largest agencies, and was located about thirty miles north of Rushville, Nebraska. The Indians here were Sioux, and a more unfavorable place for the agent to fall down could not have been selected, as the Sioux is a warlike and turbulent tribe, more easily aroused than quieted.

The forces at several military posts had, in the meantime, been directed to hold themselves in readiness for field duty, so we were not surprised when the telegraphic order arrived at Fort Riley, Kansas for the Headquarters and eight troops of the Regiment, stationed at that post, to proceed at once by rail to Pine Ridge and report for duty to Brigadier General John R. Brooke, who had arrived a few days before and was personally in charge of the military preparations. The officers who accompanied the command were:–

Colonel James W. Forsyth, 7th Cavalry, Commanding,
Major Samuel M. Whitside,         ”            Commanding 1st Squadron,
Captain Charles S. Ilsley,             ”            Comdg. Troop E & 2s Sqd.
1st Lieut. L. S. McCormick,         ”            Regimental Adjutant,
Capt. & Asst. Surgeon J. Van R. Hoff, Med. Dept., Surgeon,
1st Lt. & Asst. Surgeon James D. Glennan, Med. Dept.
1st Lieut. Joseph E. Maxfield, Signal Dept., Signal Officer,
Capt. Myles Moylan,           7th Cavalry, Comdg. Troop A,
1st Lieut. Ernest A. Garlington,   ”           with           ”
Capt. Charles A. Varnum,             ”           Comdg. Troop B,
1st Lieut. John C. Gresham,         ”           with           ”
2nd Lieut. Edwin C. Bullock,        ”            with          ”      and acting Quartermaster
Captain Henry Jackson,                ”           Comdg. Troop C,
1st Lieut. Luther R. Hare,            ”            with           ”
2nd Lieut. T. Q. Donaldson, jr.,    ”            with           ”
1st Lieut. W. W. Robinson, jr.,     ”            Comdg. Troop D,
2nd Lieut. S. R. H. Tompkins,      ”            with           ”
1st Lieut. Horatio G. Sickel,         ”            with Troop E,
2nd Lieut. Sedgwick Rice,            ”            with Troop E,
Capt. Winfield S. Edgerly,            ”             Comdg. Troop G,
1st Lieut. William J. Nicholson,   ”             with Troop I,
1st Lieut. Edwin P. Brewer,         ”             with Troop G,
Capt. Henry J. Nowlan,                ”             Comdg. Troop I,
2nd Lieut. John C. Waterman,    ”             with           ”
Capt. George D. Wallace,              ”             Comdg. Troop K,
1st Lieut. James D. Mann,           ”             with Troop K.

Veterinary surgeon Daniel Lemay, 7th Cavalry, accompanied the command. 1st Lieutenant Ezra B. Fuller, Regimental Quartermaster, was left back a few days to turn over the public property at the post, but joined and relieved Lieutenant Bullock of his duties as Quartermaster before the first fight. Captain Edward S. Godfrey joined from detached service soon after we arrived at Pine Ridge, and was present in command of his troop (D) in both fights. 2nd Lieutenant Herbert G. Squiers joined from detached service, but was ordered to appear for examination for promotion before a board sitting at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 2nd Lieutenant J. F. Bell joined from detached service. Lieutenants Hare and Bullock were sent back to Fort Riley, Kansas on account of sickness. The four last named officers were unfortunate in not being able to take part in the fights. From Fort Riley also went as part of the command, Light Battery “E” 1st Artillery, with the following officers: Captain Allyn Capron, 1st Lieutenant Albert Todd, and 2nd Lieutenant Harry L. Hawthorne.

The railroad trip from Fort Riley to Rushville, Nebraska, was noteworthy only in the poor service rendered by the company, both as to speed and accommodations for men and animals. After many and unaccountable delays we reached Rushville about daybreak on the 24th of November, detrained, and marched about eight miles and went into camp. While on the way to the agency next day almost continual firing was suddenly heard to the right front. This firing was at a distance, and the only explanation seemed to be that a fight was in progress between the Indians and the few troops already at the agency; although the absence of any word from General Brooke, who had been apprised by telegraph of our approach, left this in doubt. Two troops were sent at a gallop in the direction of the firing, and the remainder of the command took the trot. After marching nearly two miles at these gaits, word was received from the two troops in advance that the firing was caused by the Indians killing the cattle as they were issued to them. This information was a great relief, as every one knew that the small force at the agency could not hold out very long, if hostilities had begun.

We arrived at the agency about noon, November 25th without further incident, and by General Brooke’s direction went into camp in the bottom south of the agency. There remained in and around the agency a large number of Indians, but a great many bucks had left and were camped in the Bad Lands about thirty miles north; and with these Bucks, General Brooke had been negotiating. Their camp was known as “the hostile camp,” and in it were also several disaffected bands from other points. The Indians who had remained at the agency were not considered, by officers who had had much experience in such matters, any more inclined to peace than those in the hostile camp; and this belief was confirmed, when the first actual conflict occurred later at Wounded Knee, by nearly every Indian hastily leaving for the hostile camp; and firing into the agency as he went. However, these negotiations were continued by General Brooke with a view to getting all the Indians to come from the hostile camp to the agency–the idea apparently being that this would settle the question. Almost daily communication was kept up, but with true Indian cunning, very little was accomplished toward committing the Indians to a peaceful acquiescence. One day the report would be very favorable, the next, matters would be at a standstill.

This backing and filling continued until the killing of Sitting Bull near Standing Rock Agency, December 15th 1890. Sitting Bull was a chief and the head Medicine Man of the Sioux, who had for years devoted himself in every possible way to stirring up discontent. To curb this dangerous influence, his arrest was ordered, and accomplished; but within a few moments thereafter, he uttered a signal shout to which his band at once responded, and in the fight which followed, he, with several others on each side, was killed. This event, however beneficial it ultimately proved to be, caused a suspension of Brooke’s negotiations, and for a few days it looked as if nothing short of force would accomplish any desired results. The negotiations were, however, soon resumed.

There were several bands of Indians out from the Missouri River agencies, and troops from different posts were in the field watching them. One of these bands was under Big Foot, a very surly and treacherous Indian. His camp was on the Cheyenne River, and after Sitting Bull’s death his following was very much increased by small parties of bucks from different points. During the night of December 22d, Big Foot and his band escaped from the force whose duty it was to control him. to prevent his joining the hostile camp north of Pine Ridge was of the utmost importance; and for this purpose General Forsyth, under orders from General Brooke, sent Whitside on December 26th, with his squadron (Troops A, B, I, K) and two Hotchkiss guns under Lieutenant Hawthorne, to the Wounded Knee Post Office to intercept Big Foot if possible. Assistant Surgeon Glennan accompanied this command.

Major General Nelson A. Miles, Commanding the Division, was at Rapid City, South Dakota, exercising command of all the forces in the field. He had more than once, since Big Foot’s escape, forcibly reminded Brooke of the danger attending his freedom, and of the absolute necessity of again having him under control. This was the tenor of all the orders and instructions given regarding Big Foot. Whitside captured Big Foot December 28th, about six miles from Wounded Knee, and brought the entire party in to his camp. He sent a request to Brooke at Pine Ridge for the remainder of the 7th Cavalry, and the battery. This request was complied with, and at 8:45 that night the entire Fort Riley Contingent (excepting a small camp guard) and a Company of Indian Scouts under 1st Lieutenant Charles W. Taylor and 2nd Lieutenant Guy H. Preston, 9th Cavalry, were at Wounded Knee Post Office, eighteen miles from the agency. Whitside had already located the Indian village on the flat about one hundred and fifty yards southwest of his camp; he had counted the band and two hundred and thirty women and children, and one hundred and twenty bucks, and issued rations to them. He had detailed Troops “A” and “I” as guard for this night, dividing them into three reliefs with an officer in charge of each relief. The two Captains divided the night in the duties of Officer of the Day. Forsyth’s force joined Whitside’s with as little commotion as possible, and as it had no baggage of any kind it bivouacked for the night and no change was made in Whitside’s dispositions.

Brooke’s order to Whitside was to “find Big Foot move on him at once and with rapidity, capture him, and if he fought, to destroy him.” Those elements of the order without condition, had been completely executed. Capture by United States forces had never inspired Indians with very much terror. It is always followed by an issue of rations, which is repeated at regular intervals, and finally terminated, as a rule with liberty and forgiveness for all crimes and disorders, no matter how serious have been the consequences. On Forsyth, as will be seen, was imposed the ticklish business of disarming this band of fanatics; and this has always been the critical stage in dealing with captured Indians—even when not inflamed to the point of insanity by religious zeal. In fact, complete disarmament has been so rare that the rules of chance have not yet presented any variety of results. A fight will always take place, and it is absurd, to even hope for the contrary. To the Indian a gun is the most cherished of all earthly possessions. The cost almost precludes the possibility of any one Indian buying more than one gun during a lifetime. How persistently would the civilized white man cling to any of his treasures if he saw no prospect of replacing them! The Indian recognizes the superiority of the white man’s gun over his own bow and arrow for hunting purposes; and as his hunting is for subsistence alone, and is not for the mere fun of seeing animals die, it is not hard to understand this intensity of feeling. It would be instructive to see the workings of a law (assuming that it would be constitutional) requiring the citizens of this country to surrender their sporting guns; and to note the protestations, concealments, lies, and even forcible resistance which those executing such a law would encounter. The noble Red Man himself could pick up points; yet we like to consider him as the culmination of all that is troublesome, unreliable, and treacherous. And this band did possess all of these attributes in a marked degree.

Whitside hoped to so overawe its members by numbers as to convince them that resistance, to the demand that was to follow, would be useless; and thus accomplish the purpose without loss of life. Believing as they did, that their ghost shirts would protect them from the bullets of the soldiers, he might as well have tried to overawe so many lions. Forsyth’s orders from Brooke were “to disarm the Indians where they were camped, to, under no circumstances, allow any of them to escape, and to destroy them if they resisted.” The difficulties coincident with the execution of this duty have been partially explained; and no subordinate ever had a more delicate service to perform. In this connection it must be remembered that Forsyth could not take the initiative in actual conflict with the Indians. Had such a course been in accord with the policy of the government, he could have announced his ultimatum of immediate surrender of arms, or destruction, and governed himself accordingly. Instead, by the limitations of this policy, he was chiefly occupied in an endeavor to obey his order “to disarm,” without resorting to the alternative “to destroy”—though at the same time taking the necessary precautions to meet what all feared would follow.

Early in the morning of December 29th, Forsyth made his dispositions for the coming contest in diplomacy, it was hoped; but in force, it was feared. Whitside’s sentinels from Troops “A” and “I”, and the remainder of the guard, were left as morning found them—one third on post around the village, and the other two thirds stationed at suitable points from which to support the sentinels in case of necessity. Troops “B” and “K” were held in reserve, to be used as occasion demanded. These four Troops remained dismounted, their horses being left at the picket lines in camp. Troops “C”, “D”, “E”, and “G” were mounted and stationed at such sheltered positions as were available around and at some distance from the flat on which the village was located. The artillery was placed on a rise of ground north of and over looking and controlling the flat, with Troop “E” near at hand. All were cautioned to avoid doing anything to excite suspicion on the part of the Indians. When these arrangements were completed, Forsyth called a council, and took his place on the flat between Whitside’s camp and the village. Only a part of the bucks responded, and, after showing themselves, they returned to the village. This constant moving back and forth continued for half an hour or more, the bucks paying no attention to Forsyth’s instructions to listen to what he had to say. Finally, Big Foot, who was ill with pneumonia, was brought from the tent which had been pitched for his comfort and treatment, and in front of which Forsyth stood, and was persuaded to cause his bucks to assemble. Even then they paid little or no attention to the purpose of the council, and many of them returned to the village in defiance of every effort to restrain them. It then became necessary to adopt some method by which they could be held until Forsyth could explain what he had been ordered to demand of them. For this purpose, Troops “B”, and “K” were moved to the flat between the village and the place of council, and placed in effective position. Several bucks, at different times, tried to push themselves through these lines toward the village, and it required the greatest forbearance on the part of the officers and men to prevent an outbreak.

After the placing of these two troops to hold the bucks, Forsyth plainly told them that he was ordered by higher authority to secure their arms; and tried to impress them with the fact that the government would deal fairly and kindly with them. Just here is where the real trouble began. His announcement was received with the sullen defiance so often displayed by strikers during labor troubles—with this effective difference, that the Indians believed themselves to be absolutely safe from all attacks by white men. It was surprising to see the perfect confidence they had in their ghost shirts. Big Foot gave some instructions, and as a result a few broken and worthless guns were brought over from the village. He was then informed that those few guns could not be taken as a compliance with the orders of the government. He [Big Foot] replied that his people had no more guns, that they had been burned by the troops on the Cheyenne River. His statement was not believed, and it was apparent that to get any serviceable arms we would have to find and take them. Forsyth then ordered Whitside to have the village searched. The Captains of Troops “B” and “K” (Varnum and Wallace) with small details, were designated for this duty—Wallace starting on the flank of the village farthest from our camp, and Varnum on the other flank, each working toward the center. The Indians had evidently expected this search, and had taken every possible precaution. Several tepees on each flank had been searched without result, when someone noticed a squaw sitting on the ground with her clothes spread out more than usual. She would not get up when told to do so, and it was necessary for two soldiers to take her by the hands and raise her to her feet, disclosing two guns which had been very cleverly concealed. The search was resumed, and. under nearly every squaw and child was found some sort of a weapon. Wallace and Varnum were cautioned against allowing their details to use any more force than necessity demanded in making these searches. A number of knives, war clubs, and about forty guns, many of which were unserviceable, were taken out of the village. Forsyth was satisfied that full results had not yet been obtained, and again demanded from Big Foot a compliance with the orders, calling his attention to the fact that every buck had a gun at the surrender the day before. Big Foot simply repeated his former assertions about having been deprived of his guns on the Cheyenne River. Every place had been searched except the persons of the bucks, and Forsyth could not feel that he had fully executed his orders to disarm this band, if any place was left unsearched; so, instructions were given for each buck to be examined. To properly accomplish this, the Indians were told to return to their village by passing through the interval between Troops “B” and “K”, and to allow the details at that point to search them for arms and ammunition.

It was then about half past nine o’clock in the morning, and the Medicine Man of the band had been indulging in an almost continuous harangue. Little attention had been given to this by Forsyth until Interpreter P. F. Wells of Lieutenant Taylor’s company of Scouts, who had been acting as interpreter in the council, informed him that the Indian had suddenly changed the tenor of his address, and was then trying to induce his comrades to resist the personal search, claiming that they could not be harmed by the bullets of the soldiers. Forsyth had a great deal of trouble in causing this man to cease his efforts in this direction, but finally he sat down although his manner plainly indicated that he was still determined to carry his point if possible. Father F. M. J. Craft, a Catholic priest from the agency, had been present at the council doing all he could to persuade the Indians to submit. The personal search began, and about half a dozen of the older Indians had passed through the interval designated , and allowed the details to search under their blankets, when the Medicine Man reached down, gathered a handful of dust, and threw it into the air. Captain Varnum, although some little distance away assisting in the search, saw this sign, recognized it, and called—“Look out! they’ve broken.”

Although the blankets fell from the Indians as suddenly as a fireman is deprived of his bedding when an alarm is turned in, and every buck began to use his gun as rapidly as possible, Captain Varnum’s warning no doubt brought to many a young soldier a realization of the fact that he was in his first fight, and gave him a bracer in the knowledge that all of his comrades had heard the warning and were with him to the end. The Indians broke in the general direction of their village and endeavored to penetrate the line of Troops “B” and “K”, but the soldiers stood their ground and returned the fire to the best of their ability. It should be remembered that every shot fired by the Indians at this stage, was toward their own village in which were their women and children, and that not a single soldier was so placed as to fire in that direction, but exactly the opposite.

About the time the order was given to prepare for the personal search, it was noticed that the squaws and children were saddling ponies, hitching their teams and loading considerable plunder in their wagons. When asked for an explanation of this the bucks said they were simply getting ready so that they would not delay the command. At the first shot the squaws leaped in the wagons and drove out of their village and took an old road leading along the base of the hill on which the artillery had been located. The bucks soon scattered around the flanks of Troops “B” and “K” and endeavored to follow their families, some of which had been unable to reach the old road and had then crossed a deep ravine which was the southern limit of the flat. No wagons escaped in this direction, and the number of bucks was not large, although several followed up the ravine and in that way tried to reach the foot hills. Those Indians who were not killed in the first clash and who succeeded in getting in rear of their women and children, necessarily now drew our fire in their direction. Troops “B” and “K”, in order to allow the other Troops to open fire, gradually changed their position to the hill where the Artillery was. Troops “A” and “I” (these were the Troops that furnished the sentinels and supports) held the positions they occupied, and on them the sentinels assembled. The Artillery had not yet had a chance to take part without endangering our own men, but was ready and watching for the first opportunity. The Indian Scouts disappeared early in the action. The mounted Troops (“C”, “D”, “E”, and “G”) dismounted at the first shot, and after placing their horses as safely as possible, waited for orders. The Troop Commanders allowed a few of their sharpshooters to fire at certain Indians, but the rest of the men were kept ready for any call.

This fight on the flat was very hot, and by the time Troops “B” and “K” had changed their positions to the hill, not many bucks were possessed of motive power; and a number of those who had escaped around the flanks of the line had been killed by the sharpshooters of Troops “C”, “D”, “E”, and “G”. Several had, however, succeeded in reaching the foot hills and the dense brush growing in the ravines. Whitside’s squadron had borne the brunt of the fight and had, in less than an hour, permanently disposed of most of the bucks. Forsyth sent orders to Troops “C”, and “D”, and “G” of the other squadron to pursue those Indians who had escaped and, to capture and kill the men, and to capture the women and children. The three troops mounted and set out at a gallop, and a running fight took place with these Indian bucks for two or three miles, when all who had not been killed were captured. During this time, the killed and wounded were being collected, and the latter attended to in the best possible manner by Captain Hoff and Lieutenant Glennan. The results of Captain Hoff’s continued and efficient instructions of the company bearers of the regiment were so marked as to produce general praises. He received several bullets through his clothing while dressing wounds on the field.

Instead of fleeing to the hills, two or three bucks had secreted themselves in the brush near the head of the deep ravine south of the flat, and by moving about had escaped destruction, although a Hotchkiss gun under Lieutenant Hawthorne, and detachments of Troop “H” had been trying to dislodge them. It was while on this duty with his gun advanced to short range in order to get better control of the brush, that Lieut. Hawthorne received a severe [wound] in the groin. Earlier in the action Captain Wallace had been killed, and Lieutenant Garlington severely, and Lieutenant Gresham slightly wounded. 1st Lieutenant John Kinzie, 2nd Infantry, present but not on duty of any kind, was shot through the heel. Father Craft had been stabbed through the body from behind; and Interpreter Wells’ nose had been almost severed from his face. Capt. and Assistant Surgeon C. B. Ewing was present but not on duty with any organization.

In the meantime Captain Jackson’s Troop had captured a number of Indians, principally women and children, in the foot hills, when he was confronted by a about a hundred bucks who had come out from the agency (whom the authorities had supposed to be peaceful Indians) and had, sent back for reinforcements. Troops “D” and “G” were ordered to move from their work in the adjacent hills to Jackson’s assistance; and Troop “H” was assembled and was about to go to the same point when Jackson sent word that the agency Indians had retired. A counting of dead bucks had been going on for some time, and as all but two or three of Big Foot’s band were accounted for, every effort was directed towards the care of our dead, and the wounded of both sides. About this time a train of ten or fifteen wagons appeared on the scene loaded with rations and forage from the agency, and intended for Whitside’s squadron in escorting Big Foot’s disarmed band, to a station on the railroad, whence they were to be taken to some reservation at a distance.

Up to this time the transportation present was so limited that moving the dead and, wounded was an impossibility; and a beginning had been made to construct temporary entrenchments on the hill north of the flat, as it seemed a foregone conclusion that we would have to remain there until such time as means for moving the wounded were sent to us. The hostile camp was not a great distance west of us, and an attack from that quarter was not at all unlikely, as soon as news of our fight could reach it; and the temper of the agency Indians was very apparent from Jackson’s encounter in the hills. The arrival of this train offered a solution. The wagons were unloaded and a layer of sacked oats placed in the bottom, over which was spread a thick layer of hay; and in these wagons the dead and wounded were taken to Pine Ridge that night, in order to get them where they could be properly cared for. After all our wagons were loaded there were four or five wounded Indians not provided for. One of the Indian wagons was secured for these, and by gathering pieces of harness from different parts of the field, we finally had all ready for the terrible ride of eighteen miles. There were two ambulances, and in one of them Lieutenants Garlington and Hawthorne were placed; and in the other Father Craft and a non-commissioned officer. The transportation for these four was bad enough, but it was heavenly when compared with the springless jolts of the freight wagon. It took us from five o’clock until a about half past eleven to march in—the rate being regulated by that of the wagons.

To recapitulate, we started with the bodies of one officer and twenty-four enlisted men of the 7th Cavalry, and one hospital Steward; and of wounded, one officer and thirty three enlisted men of the 7th Cavalry, one officer of the 1st Artillery and one of the 2nd Infantry, one interpreter, and one civilian. Three of the wounded enlisted men died in the wagons, and five afterwards as a result of their wounds. As it was impossible to bury the dead Indians, they were left on the field; but all wounded Indians were given the best attention possible and taken with us to the agency. A party was sent out in a few days and buried one hundred and forty-six on the field. With very few exceptions all the bucks were still there.

When we arrived at the agency Forsyth stopped and made a verbal report to General Brooke. The regiment and battery went to their camps, cared for their horses, and speedily sought their blankets. A great many of the Indians, who had been living at the agency and who had by some been considered as friendly, had disappeared in the direction of the hostile camp. Just when they would appear again, and whether as an attacking force or as ration receivers, was a question; and there was necessarily considerable excitement among the troops, which prevented much sleep. Immediately after reveille next morning, December 30th, we were summoned to go to the help of the train of a squadron of the 9th Cavalry, which was following that squadron to its camp at the agency. Major Guy V. Henry, Commanding, had come in ahead with three of the Troops, leaving one troop as a guard to the train. It had been attacked by Indians, and one corporal had been killed. This squadron had made quite a long march, and the 7th Cavalry was considered in better condition for the work. After a gallop of about three miles, we found the train and escorted it to the agency.

Within an hour the 7th Cavalry and Light Battery “E”, 1st Artillery, were again called for to go to the Drexel Mission, about four miles away, on the report that Indians were burning the Mission. Arriving there we found the report a mistake, although they had fired a log school house, located at a little distance from the Mission. An interview with those in charge convinced Forsyth that the Mission was in no danger, and he had given orders to return to the agency, when a report came in from the advance guard that one of the scouts claimed that he heard the firing of heavy guns from the direction of the hostile camp. Forsyth had already executed the orders under which he had been sent to the Mission, but could not well turn back in the face of this report, particularly as it was quite possible that a fight was in progress in his front between the forces known to be in that direction and the unknown number of Indians. Deciding to investigate matters a little more, he sent a report to General Brooke with request for the 9th Cavalry squadron to join him, and continued his march down the valley. The advance guard developed and drove back a small party; but soon afterwards a very much larger force was opposed to us. Proper dispositions were made on commanding ground about two miles below the Mission. There was nothing to indicate that there was any fight in our front, and as Forsyth was not expected to bring on an unnecessary engagement, and, as our men had practically been without food for forty-eight hours, he gave orders for the return to camp, withdrawing Whitside’s squadron and the Artillery first, and leaving Ilsley’s squadron in position until Whiteside could occupy one in rear, when Ilsley was to withdraw to the rear of Whitside.

Whitside’s squadron was approaching its position when a sharp fire was directed against it from the hills on its right flank. Part of the squadron was formed toward the right and occupied a crest which controlled the situation. As Ilsley’s squadron retired it was so utilized as to aid in the withdrawal. About this time Henry’s squadron of the 9th Cavalry arrived from the Agency, and under Forsyth’s direction was used for the same purpose. One enlisted man was killed in this affair, and 1st Lieutenant James D. Mann and six enlisted men were wounded. Lieut. Mann afterwards died as a result of this wound. The loss to the Indians was never known. The command arrived at the agency about four o’clock in the afternoon.

As a sequel to these two fights, Colonel Forsyth was relieved from command of his regiment by General Miles and subjected to an investigation of his conduct of the two engagements. The following endorsements show the action taken by the Major General commanding the Army, and the Secretary of War, on the reports of the investigation.

February 4, 1891.
Respectfully submitted to the Secretary of War.
The interests of the military service do not, in my judgment, demand any further proceedings in this case, nor any longer continuance of Colonel Forsyth’s suspension from the command of his regiment.
The evidence in these papers shows that great care was taken by the officers and generally by the enlisted men to avoid unnecessary killing of women and children in the affair at Wounded Knee, and shows that the conduct of the 7th Cavalry, under very trying circumstances, was characterized by excellent discipline, and in many cases, by great forbearance. In my judgment the conduct of the regiment was well worthy of the commendation bestowed upon it by me in my first telegram after the engagement.
Signed J. M. Schofield,
Major General, Commanding.

War Department,
Office of the Secretary,
Washington, February 12, 1891.
Respectfully returned to the Major general Commanding.
From the testimony taken by Major Kent and Captain Baldwin, two officers of General Mile’s Staff, ordered by him to investigate the fight at Wounded Knee, it appears that before the action, Big Foot’s band had been joined by Sitting Bull’s following, and these bands embraced the most fanatical and desperate element among the Sioux. They surrendered because of the necessities of their situation rather than from submissive spirit. It was the sullen and unwilling yielding of a band of savage fanatics, who were overmatched and out of food, to superior force. It was not in good faith on the part of the younger braves, at least, but yet not with any definite prearranged plan of treachery.
It was manifestly an imperative necessity to prevent the escape of any of these desperadoes during the process of disarming or as a consequence of the attempt to disarm them, for such escape would probably have resulted in a destructive raid upon the settlements. The troops appear to have been well disposed to prevent an outbreak which was not and could hardly have been anticipated by any one, under the circumstances, even in dealing with Indians, and the dispositions made appear to have had the desired effect of convincing at least a majority of the Indians of the futility of any attempt to escape. If treachery was premeditated by any of the Indians, which seems extremely improbable, the majority of them were deterred from attempting to execute it, until incited by the speech of the ghost dancer.
The disarmament was commenced and it was evident that the Indians were sullenly trying to evade the order. To carry out this order the men had been ordered out from their camp, to separate them from their women and children, and were formed about a hundred yards away, and Troop “K” and “B” were posted midway between them and their tepees. When ordered to surrender their arms they produced two broken carbines and stated that was all they had, but when the partial search of the tepees was made before the firing commenced, about forty arms were found, the squaws making every effort to conceal same by hiding and sitting on them, and in various other ways evincing a most sullen mien. The disarmament was much more thorough than they expected, and when they found that the arms were to be taken from their tepees, and those they had concealed under their blankets were to be taken away also, they were carried away by the harangue of the ghost dancer, and, wheeling about, opened fire. Nothing illustrates the madness of their outbreak more forcibly than the fact that their first fire was so directed that every shot that did not hit a soldier must have gone through their own village. There is little doubt that the first killing of women and children was by this first fire of the Indians themselves. They then made a rush to break through and around the flanks of Troop “K”, commanded by the gallant Captain Wallace, and reached their tepees, where many of them had left their arms with the squaws, and they continued the firing from among their own women and children, and when they started from their camp, their women and children were mingled with them. The women and children were never away from the immediate company of the men after the latter broke from the circle. Many of the men and women got on their ponies, and it is impossible to distinguish buck from squaw at a little distance when mounted. The men fired from among the children and women in their retreat. Cautions were repeatedly given by officers and non-commissioned officers not to shoot squaws or children, and the men were cautioned individually that such and such Indians were squaws. The firing by the troops was entirely directed on the men in the circle and in a direction opposite from the tepees until the Indians, after their break, mingled with their women and children, thus exposing them to the fire of the troops, and as a consequence, some were unavoidably killed and wounded, a fact which was universally regretted by the officers and men of the Seventh Cavalry. This unfortunate phase of the affair grew out of circumstances for which the Indians themselves were entirely responsible. Major Whitside emphatically declares that at least fifty shots were fired by the Indians before the troops returned the fire. Several special instances of humanity in the saving of women and, children were noted.
That it resulted in the loss of the lives of many good soldiers and the wounding of many others, as well as the almost total destruction of the Indian warriors, was one of the inevitable consequences of such acts of insane desperation.
The bodies of an Indian women and three children who had been shot down three miles from Wounded Knee were found some days after the battle and buried by Captain Baldwin, of the 5th infantry, on the 21st day of January; but It does not appear that this killing had any connection with the fight at Wounded Knee, nor that Colonel Forsyth is in an way responsible for it. Necessary orders will be given to insure a thorough investigation of the transaction and the prompt punishment of the criminals.
No doubt the position of the troops made it necessary for some of them to withhold, their fire for a time in order that they might not endanger the lives of their comrades, but both Major Kent and Captain Baldwin concur in finding that the evidence “fails to establish that a single man of Colonel Forsyth’s command was killed or wounded by his fellows.” This fact, and, indeed, the conduct of both officers and men through the whole affair demonstrates an exceedingly satisfactory state of discipline in the 7th Cavalry. Their behavior was characterized by skill, coolness, discretion and forbearance, and reflects the highest possible credit upon the regiment, which sustained a loss of one officer, and twenty-four enlisted men wounded.
The situation at Wounded Knee Creek was a very unusual and a very difficult one, far more difficult than that involved in an ordinary battle, where the only question is of gaining a victory without an effort to save the lives of the enemy. It is easy to make plans when we look backward, but in the light of actual conditions, as they appeared to the commanding officer, there does not seem to be anything in the arrangement of the troops requiring adverse criticism on the part of the Department.
I therefore approve of the endorsement of the Major General Commanding, that the interests of the military service do not demand any further proceedings in this case. By direction of the President, Colonel Forsyth will resume the command of his regiment.
Signed Redfield Proctor,
Secretary of War,

Source: Maj. Loyd S. McCormick, “Wounded Knee and Drexel Mission Fights. December 29th and 30th, 1890,” (Fort Leavenworth: unpublished manuscript, 1904) pp. 1-6. On file at Newberry Library, Chicago, IL, Special Collections, 4th Floor, Call Number: Ayer 228 .C922.
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