When spring comes, we are going to kill them like dogs.

BUT IT WAS CRAZY Horse who was the ultimate target of George Crook’s plans. No sooner was the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition formally dissolved at Camp Robinson on October 24 than the general began preparations for a renewed winter campaign back into the Tongue and Powder river country. This time he was determined to go after the holdout chief with Oglala and Brulé scouts—the men who knew him best. Helping the Army officers sign them up were Frank Grouard, Baptiste Pourier, and Billy Garnett as interpreters. Eventually hundreds of scouts took part in the campaign, including a group of Shoshones from western Wyoming, some Arapahos under Sharp Nose, a large contingent of Pawnee commanded by the North brothers, and as many as 150 Sioux from the agencies on the White River.

But only two of these scouts were Spotted Tail’s Brulé. The failure was blamed mainly on the civilian agent E. A. Howard, who told Garnett on the 28th that in his view “it was not right for the Indians to fight against each other.” After a day of futile effort at the Spotted Tail Agency, Grouard and Pourier gave up in disgust and returned to Camp Robinson, but Garnett stayed on and eventually managed to enlist seven men from the camps along Beaver Creek.1 One of them was the Oglala Fast Thunder, who had chosen to live with the Brulé, and who had been to Washington with the other Sioux chiefs in 1875. It was not the pay, the horse, or the gun provided by the Army that Fast Thunder wanted, but a home in the north. He and other scouts believed they would more easily win an agency in the Powder and Tongue river country if they helped Three Stars bring in the northern Indians. When Billy Garnett returned to Camp Robinson he, too, was enlisted as a scout and interpreter in Company B, with a rise in pay to $85 a month.2

As the scouts prepared to leave for Fort Laramie and the renewed campaign, Crook arranged to send a spy north to locate the winter camp of Crazy Horse. The man chosen for this mission was Sitting Bear (Mato Iyotanke), who had joined American Horse in June to find Sioux Jim for the soldiers, and finished him off with a bullet in the head. A man of about thirty, son of the Oglala Ohitika (Brave) and Coarse Voice Woman, Sitting Bear had enlisted as one of the “Red Top” scouts at Fort Laramie in the mid-1860s, had been to Washington with Red Cloud in 1870, and was now, like Billy Garnett, a scout in Company B. Also sent north about the same time as Sitting Bear were two other spies, Lone Bear and Iron Bear, who were given a related mission—to travel with the Crazy Horse camp until Crook’s force was almost upon them, and then to slip away to tell the general where the Indians planned to go after the impending fight.3

These two spy missions were probably arranged by General Crook’s newest aide-de-camp, Lieutenant William Philo Clark, who had joined Crook’s summer expedition on the Yellowstone in August and distinguished himself at Slim Buttes in September. It is difficult to say which came first—instructions from Crook to manage the Indian scouts, or Clark’s natural inclination to take on the job. Soon after his arrival at Camp Robinson, Clark began to learn sign talking. This was no casual effort; eventually he became a leading authority on the subject, collecting signs from Indians all over the plains. In the beginning his tutor was William Rowland, an old plainsman in his sixties who interpreted for the northern Cheyenne at the Red Cloud Agency, where Rowland lived with his Cheyenne wife of many years.4 Soon Clark was conversing freely in signs with chiefs and leading men, including Red Cloud, himself a noted sign talker with his own peculiar style. Most signers made generous use of a big circle of space, moving their hands emphatically within a circle thirty inches in diameter. But Red Cloud was restrained; his gestures were tight and small in a circle no more than a foot across.5

From signing with Red Cloud, Clark progressed into deeper conversation, speaking frankly of his own life and inviting the chief to do the same. At the core of Clark’s approach was a discussion of sons—of himself as the son of a prosperous upstate New York farmer, anxious for the lieutenant’s rise in the world; and of Wanka Wicasa (Above Man), the only son of Red Cloud, known to whites as Jack. Fathers wanted their sons to succeed, Clark said. His own father, William, back home in Deer River, New York, helped the young man win appointment to West Point, and after his commission settled enough money on him to triple his Army salary of $125 a month. That, Clark said, was why he could spend his own money to help the Indians.

Later the father worried that military service on the frontier was too dangerous. “He wanted me to resign, but I liked the service so well that I would not quit it.” Clark spoke frankly about Red Cloud’s son, who had been humiliated at the Rosebud when the Crow seized the rifle given to Red Cloud in Washington. It was natural for fathers to worry about sons. “This is one reason I have not married,” he told Red Cloud. “I do not wish to leave any orphans, for a man in my place is liable to be killed at any time.”6 Clark once made a similar observation to another man: being single, he said, allowed him to rise more freely in his profession. Clark illustrated his point “by the index finger of my right hand, raising it slowly and showing that nothing pulled it down.” The man he was speaking to signed “that this was wrong, a mistake. He had two wives, and they formed a support on each side of the index, and helped to raise it.”7

From spending time with the Indians, Clark soon gravitated to handling scouts generally. He grew confident of his ability to “work” Indians by playing them off one against the other. By mid-October Crook had appointed Clark his new chief of scouts, and sent him off to check on Frank Grouard, who had fallen ill at Fort Laramie. Crook wanted Grouard on the winter campaign, and the scout promised Clark he would meet the general at Fort Fetterman when he was well enough to travel.8 It was Clark, again, on November 4, who stuck his head into Frank North’s tent at Laramie and said, “Well, Major, are you going on the expedition? The general has already gone.”9

North was nonplussed. This was his introduction to Crook’s habit of sitting and thinking until he was ready to move, and trusting others to note when he got up and went. Thereafter the Norths kept track of Crook and moved their Pawnee scouts when he moved.

The following day, on November 5, the general signed Special Order Number 1 of the newly named Powder River Expedition, identifying the various units and their commanders. Clark’s job was defined only as “Special Duty,” but in fact Crook placed him in command of the Indian scouts from the White River agencies, a job he held for the following year. Clark was a bright and eager young officer, a man everybody seemed to like. He listened to the Indians, took extensive notes on their customs and ways, made sure he knew what they wanted, and respected them in a way unusual among military officers. His interest in the Indians was genuine and deep, but his purpose was to control them—“working them,” in his phrase—by playing one off another to achieve the government’s aims.10 But at the very outset Clark ran into trouble keeping the peace between North’s Pawnee and the Oglala from the Red Cloud Agency.

While the expedition was forming at Fort Fetterman, Clark distributed arms to the scouts and made sure that all had horses. One of his headmen, already becoming an intimate of the young lieutenant, was Three Bears, a sergeant of scouts in Company B, who for several years past had been an ally of white officials at the Red Cloud Agency. The horse of Three Bears had given out on the trip up to Fetterman, so Clark took him down to the horse herd to pick out a replacement. Most of these surplus horses had been seized from Red Cloud’s people, and it is likely Three Bears knew exactly what he was doing when he selected the big bay famous among the Oglala for its speed. Some of North’s Pawnee saw Three Bears and the lieutenant start off with the bay and protested. Clark agreed to discuss the matter with Frank North, but when they met up a few moments later North told Clark nothing doing: “This horse belongs to me.”

Clark said he was following Crook’s instructions to pick out horses for his scouts and Three Bears wanted the bay.

“Well, he can’t have him,” said North.

After further words both stated they would ask Crook to settle the dispute.

Clark and Three Bears left directly for the fort, where Crook was attending to business in the sutler’s store, but the North brothers were delayed a moment while Luther hunted up his gray. When they finally got going their route to the fort took them past the Oglala camp, and there the Norths found a group of Sioux with Three Bears at the center, apparently relating his grievance about the horse.

Pawnee and Sioux had been blood enemies for as long as they had possessed horses to steal from each other, about 180 years.11 It wasn’t just Indians who were serious about horses; whites treated stealing one as a hanging offense, and the penalty was routinely imposed. Now Crook’s new chief of scouts had managed to bring the Oglala and the Norths to the point of bloodshed over a horse. Luther North later described how the brothers handled this delicate moment.

The road passed within thirty or forty feet of [the Oglala], and as we got near them Three Bears quit talking, and they all stood looking at us. Frank touched his horse with the spur, and as he was highspirited he commenced to dance. Frank began to sing the Pawnee war song and I joined in with him, and we danced our horses and sang our song past them. No one spoke a word, nor did any of them make a move, and we rode on to the fort, where Frank found [Lieutenant] Clark, and asked him to go with him to see the general.12

According to Luther North, Crook blamed Clark for the ruckus, saying he should have asked before taking, but more likely the general issued soothing words in both directions. The upshot was that Clark’s Oglala got plenty of horses but North’s Pawnee kept first pick of the best ones.

But the quarrel had been a near thing, it got Crook to thinking, and it contributed to a series of full-scale councils with all the Indians as the expedition left Fort Fetterman in mid-November and started north in hope of finding the camp of Crazy Horse. At these councils Crook and the Oglala both described what they desired at the end of the war. Crook wanted peace on the plains, not just between Indians and whites but between all the tribes; and the Oglala wanted a home in the north. The first two conversations were held on November 8, when the Indian scouts arrived at Fort Fetterman, and on the 13th, the night before the expedition crossed the North Platte and took the road north. There was much talk of horses at these first two councils—how to divide the horses taken from Red Cloud’s people, who would get the horses captured from the northern Indians. The Oglala chief Fast Thunder carried the discussion one step further on the 13th, putting into words what all the Sioux were thinking. He reminded the general that in Washington the previous spring President Grant had asked the Sioux to protect the horses of white people as they would their own; if any were stolen Grant hoped the Sioux would help the whites to get them back. Fast Thunder had promised to do so, and he had done as he promised.

The Indians that stay at the agency have never done any harm to the white man and I think it very wrong to take away their horses. I wish you to tell the Great Father not to take away any more of the horses from these Indians. The reason I am going out to fight the Northern hostiles is that the country up there was given us by the Great Father and I want to get it back … I want you to tell the Great Father to give us back the country where we were living … The young men want this. We are your friends now and we don’t want you to take our homes away any more.13

After a week’s thinking, Crook addressed all these matters again on the morning of Sunday, November 19, when the expedition was camped at Antelope Springs near the site of old Fort Reno. It was Crook’s third stop at the site in the year 1876, each time as he was riding north with the hope of bringing Crazy Horse to bay. Lieutenant Bourke noted in his diary that eight tribes listened to Crook’s words: Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahos, Shoshones, and Pawnee, with a sprinkling of Nez Percé, Ute, and Bannock.

“We don’t want to kill the Indians,” said the general in opening the conference, speaking of the northern Cheyenne and the Oglala with Crazy Horse. “We only want to make them behave themselves.” By that he meant that the government wanted them to abandon their wandering life, come in to the agency, and “live like the whites.”

Crook had many further words of practical advice about scouting, saving ammunition, not abandoning a fight in order to round up horses, not killing the women and children, etc. But the part of his talk which all remembered came at the end, when he said that warring among the plains tribes must come to an end. Bourke recorded some of his words:

I want you now all to be friends together, just like the soldiers are. You must remain friends and stick to this thing right through until it is ended … Now we have met here as friends. We must give up old grudges, shake hands and be good friends together. That’s all I’ve got to say: I want you all to act together.14

As transcribed by Bourke, Crook’s words have the perfunctory tone of preacher’s boilerplate. But Billy Garnett translated the general’s words into Lakota and he remembered them vividly when he described them thirty years later. When Crook told the Indians that he wanted them all to be friends, Garnett recalled, “they did so with great rejoicing and handshaking and some of the Indians made presents to other Indians, giving even horses in some cases.” These gestures were not hollow or empty, Garnett insisted, but marked a dramatic change in the way the tribesmen dealt with each other from that moment forward. The Sioux and the Pawnee had been nervous and standoffish during the first week of the march north from Fetterman, but after Crook’s words “there was the fullest freedom and warmest friendship and most cordial intercourse.” It was not a sham, Garnett insisted. Judge Ricker noted Garnett’s evident sincerity: “He never saw, before or since, such manifestation of good will and genuine happiness.”15

The explosion of good feeling began with Three Bears and Leading Chief (Li-heris-oo-la-shar), a longtime Pawnee scout, who was dressed in a military tunic but was painted in the Pawnee way—cheeks and jaw yellow, forehead dark brown, eyelids and ears a brilliant red with red streaks down the part in his hair and the line of his nose. Leading Chief was the right-hand man of Frank North. Addressing himself to Leading Chief, Three Bears said,

When I want to have a friend, I give him horses and shake hands with him. This is the first man who shook hands with me. I’ll give him a horse. It’s a poor one, but I’ll give it anyhow. It’s the best I’ve got.16

But the Sioux did not forget why they had agreed to come. They told Crook they did not like the agreement wrung out of the chiefs by President Grant’s peace commissioners. They told the general the chiefs who met with the commissioners had no right to give away what was not theirs, meaning the Black Hills and the unceded territories where the buffalo could still be found. The scouts did not want to move to a strange country. They had joined the expedition “for the purpose of getting an agency in their own country.” These explicit words Bourke failed to record, but Garnett remembered what Crook promised clearly enough.

He told them that his business was to get the Indians who were out. If [the scouts] would be loyal to his purpose and aid him all they could, when the object was gained he would exert his influence to get them settled down in the country of their choice, with an agency as they wanted.

There was nothing ambiguous about it. The Sioux wanted an agency in the Powder and Tongue river country, and Crook promised to help them get it.

Standing among the crowd of officers during the council with the Indians was Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, a veteran of the Civil War who had seen much service on the plains in the decade since. Dodge was typical of many educated whites of the time: he was interested in the Indians, admired their horsemanship and scouting skills, and even referred to the chief Pawnee scout as “my old friend Frank White,” while confessing he could never pronounce or remember Frank’s Indian name, Li-heris-oo-la-shar.

Like other military officers, Dodge was not indifferent to Indian women, describing one Cheyenne as “a very handsome girl, for an Indian.” But he was from South Carolina; it was impossible for him to ignore a man’s race, he believed whites were naturally superior, and he was generally repelled by the Indians physically. The Shoshones he described as “almost all very ugly” and the Pawnee “next in general ugliness.” The Arapahos he liked better because they were “very copper colored” and lighter than other Indians “except the Sioux, who have some admixture of white blood.” For Dodge, white blood was important; in his view, it was white blood that explained why the Sioux mixed-bloods were “rather handsome and intelligent looking men.” Among the mixed-bloods he noted the young fellow who had been interpreting Crook’s words to the Sioux, “the son of my old friend Dick Garnett of Virginia.”17

Billy Garnett had witnessed a great deal of violence in his short life, but the Powder River Expedition was his first experience of war. His father had died in war. No one seems to have asked Garnett when he learned of his father’s death, or how it felt for a mixed-blood scout to be the son of a famous general killed in battle. But it was about this time that Garnett dropped his stepfather’s name, Hunter, and began to use his own. It is likely that one of the Army officers told him whatever he knew about the death of his father, killed at Gettysburg during Pickett’s charge on July 3, 1863.

Garnett rode into battle because he could not walk; a few days previously, a horse had kicked him in the knee. About twenty-five paces downslope from the Union lines Garnett’s luck ran out. Soldiers said he was killed twice in the same moment—by a minié ball in the head and by a cannon load of grapeshot at point-blank range. The shot tore him in half and ripped open the right shoulder of his horse, who bolted away spewing blood from a severed artery that soon killed him. Garnett’s body fell to the ground, where it disappeared into the general mass of Confederate dead and was never identified. But killed at Gettysburg is likely all that Billy Garnett knew of the fate of his father when Colonel Richard Irving Dodge listened to him putting Crook’s words into Lakota at Antelope Springs.18

The day after Crook’s council with the Indians he sent out a small group of ten scouts—five Sioux and five Arapahos—to push out ahead in hope of finding the village of Crazy Horse. In charge of the group were two sergeants, Sharp Nose and the Oglala Red Shirt. None wore any part of a military uniform, but dressed solely as Indians. On the night of November 20 they camped and began to prepare dinner when one of the scouts, Kills a Hundred,19 noted a young Indian wrapped in a blanket just beyond the light of the fire and near the horses. “Come up!” one of the scouts called to the man in the shadows; “the meal is on!”

He did come, he took a place by their fire, and he began to eat. The young man’s name was Many Beaver Dam; he was Cheyenne and a member of a small band of a few lodges making its way to join the main Cheyenne village in the Big Horn Mountains along one of the feeder streams of the Powder River. The northern Cheyenne were not a numerous people; just about all of them were in that village, and the number was probably less than a thousand. Many Beaver Dam talked freely, mentioning that he had followed the ten scouts for quite awhile that day until he noted that some of them were Sioux and decided it would be safe to approach.

At about this point Red Shirt and Sharp Nose leveled guns at him and told him he was their prisoner. The following day they brought him back to Crook’s camp, where he repeated everything he had already said and added a good deal more, including the fact that Crazy Horse was again camped on the Rosebud near the site of last summer’s battle. He added that his friends knew Crook’s men were heading their way, and had doubtless ridden to warn Crazy Horse. Next morning Crook dispatched a courier back to Fort Fetterman with a cable to Sheridan saying he was going after Crazy Horse.20

But as Crook was preparing to pull out on the morning of the 23rd, an Indian waving a white flag from the crest of a nearby hill caught the attention of Frank Grouard. This was the Oglala Sitting Bear, who came in and reported to Crook all that he had learned in Crazy Horse’s camp. There had been a falling out between Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, who was thinking of giving up the war after a small, inconclusive fight with General Nelson Miles up north.

“Crazy Horse was quite indignant at the news,” Colonel Dodge summarized in his diary, “and said that if all the other chiefs made peace he would do so also, as he had no notion of encountering the whole force of the whites alone.”21

Sitting Bear confirmed that the tiny village of Many Beaver Dam had in fact hurried off to warn Crazy Horse of Crook’s approach. The Sioux scouts, hearing these things, then formed a new plan for operations and proposed it to Crook—first attack the Cheyenne village in the Big Horn Mountains, closer by a hundred miles, then go after the Oglala under Crazy Horse, “thus destroying the hostiles in detail.” Garnett said later he knew “that this was planned by the Sioux, because he interpreted for the Sioux when they went to Crook with it.”22

Crook adopted the plan as his own. That evening he dispatched eight scouts to locate the Cheyenne village and the next morning sent a big force under Colonel Mackenzie to follow the scouts, who doubled back about midday with report of the village’s location. The soldiers pressed on into the night. Leading the force was the Arapaho Sharp Nose, with Lieutenant Clark and Billy Garnett on his heels the whole way. Garnett later remembered,

The weather was clear and cold, no light save from the stars and it was therefore pretty dark; there was snow on the mountains and spots of ice along the line of march, all remaining from former snows, but there was no fresh snow to leave a trail but there were places where they would cross crusted snow … all the time going deeper and deeper into the mountains while ascending in elevation. Here in this valley [the Red Fork of the Powder River] some ears a little quicker to catch sound than others heard the first faint notes of drums in the village echoing in the night air among the hills.23

The sound of the drums was heard by the soldiers as they entered the first of two valleys. At its far end was a saddle of higher ground which then fell away into the second and broader valley where the Indian village was strung along the south bank of the creek. The first light of morning was touching the sky; smoke and haze lay over the ground. With the camp in sight, Mackenzie sent the scouts forward to run off the Indian ponies, telling them not to shoot unless the Cheyenne shot first. The colonel apparently hoped they might take the village without killing anyone. But the scouts had their own ideas and were vying to see who would get into the village first. Mackenzie saw one of them pushing out ahead of the soldiers.

“Who is that man down there?” he demanded.

Told it was the Wazhazha scout, Scraper, Mackenzie sent Baptiste Pourier and Billy Garnett to fetch him back, but when Garnett caught up with Scraper the Wazhazha, tying on his feathered warbonnet, said it was no use, he had made up his mind: “I never allow anybody to think before me in a case of this kind … I’m a-going.”24

At that moment the Oglala Fast Thunder rode up and joined Scraper. The two Indians, joined by Garnett and Pourier, now set off for the village on their fast horses. It was rough going over fallen timber and rocky ground, and some minutes passed before a lone Indian guarding the horses scattered about the valley spotted the four men, fired a shot at them with his revolver, and then bolted back for the village. “He fired first!” Garnett yelled. “Now fire!” The rest of the four began to shoot, and the ball had begun.25

In the gray morning light columns of scouts and of cavalry streamed up the valley on both sides of the Red Fork, scattering the Cheyenne pony herd as they went. From the lodges came shouts, confused cries, and the barking of dogs. Panicked knots of Indians were running in all directions for the surrounding hills. The new chief of scouts, Lieutenant William Philo Clark, was in the front ranks of a large group pressing directly for the village when his companion, Three Bears, suddenly bolted ahead of the others—he had lost control of his horse. What happened next, Clark wrote later, was about the bravest thing he ever witnessed:

Feather-on-the-Head, another scout, seeing the trouble his friend was in, dashed after him, urging his own fast pony forward with vigorous strokes of the whip, at the same time throwing himself from side to side of his pony to avoid the shots of his enemies. Thus he followed Three Bears through the bushes and across the stream, down among the tepees, and into the very centre of the village, where Three Bears’ horse had fallen dead, shot through the neck. His rider had scarcely touched the ground when Feather-on-the-Head, sweeping past, took him behind himself and bore him safely away.26

The scouts in the village were soon joined by soldiers. All of them began piling up loot to carry off—buffalo robes, blankets, quill and beadwork. Lodges were pulled down and stacked for burning. Loose horses were rounded up. Firing continued all the while and at moments heated up into a serious fight near one part of the village or another. Several Cheyenne in the hills to the north exposed themselves and deliberately drew fire to give the women and children time to escape. Baptiste Pourier, Frank Grouard, and Billy Garnett, among others, fired repeatedly at two men carrying buffalo heads and waving them in the air.27 Grouard was lying half concealed, loading his trapdoor carbine with one shell after another, taking careful aim. The news correspondent Jerry Roche, lying nearby, said, “What are you firing at, Frank?”

The distracted Grouard answered Roche in Lakota, then laughed—Roche of course knew no Lakota. He pointed at one of the dancing men on a hill almost half a mile away, across the valley. Despite Grouard’s steady shooting the dancing man escaped unharmed. Near Pourier was Billy Garnett, also taking careful shots at the enemy. He shot the horse out from under one man, then shot the man himself as he got to his feet—the first man he had ever killed in battle. Garnett shouted his success to Pourier, sure there was no mistake; he had watched his bullet smack the man down.

But a moment later Grouard was just as certain he had killed the same man, who was now on foot. It was a Cheyenne Grouard knew from the Red Cloud Agency, the chief known as Little Wolf. Grouard said later that he aimed carefully, then waited for the chief to show himself. In a moment the Cheyenne jumped up. “With the report of my rifle,” Grouard recalled, “Little Wolf fell to the ground and lay motionless.” Later in the day, he said, he walked by the man’s dead body. It was Little Wolf all right.28

The fighting went on for hours, sometimes flaring up, then tapering off. When Clark made his way back through the village he reported to Mackenzie, who wrote up a dispatch seeking help from Crook, then asked Garnett to send it back by courier. Garnett gave the task to the scouts Red Shirt and Charging Bear, who made the twenty-six-mile ride over rough and frozen ground. Crook set out immediately with the infantry and completed the grueling return journey in twelve hours, but still arrived too late. The fighting was over.

As the day drew to an end the Cheyenne speaker Bill Rowland called out to the men on the other side, urging them to surrender. Most of the Cheyenne voices were still full of fight. They said there was another big Sioux village nearby; they were sending for help and soon the whites would be in trouble.

“You have killed and hurt a heap of our people,” one of the Cheyenne shouted to Rowland. “You may as well stay now and kill the rest of us.”

But Dull Knife was of a different mind; two of his sons had been killed in the fighting. He told Rowland he was ready to give up but the other chiefs would not listen to him. To the Indian scouts, Dull Knife called out, “Go home—you have no business here. We can whip the white soldiers alone but can’t fight you too.”29

Soon after this exchange darkness settled on the field. The destruction of the village begun in the morning continued throughout the day and into the night. Many observers commented on the immense variety and store of property that went up in flames—not just the ordinary tools and clothing of daily life but also thousands of pounds of dried meat prepared for winter and very nearly the whole cultural patrimony of the tribe. Bags filled with buffalo fat made the fires roar. Sometimes exploding in the flames were boxes of cartridges and at one moment even a whole barrel of gunpowder. Many relics of the Custer fight also turned up—a soldier’s hat, officers’ tunics, a pillow case made from a 7th Cavalry flag, horse tack, soldiers’ notebooks taken from bodies on the Little Bighorn. Several of these notebooks had been used by the Cheyenne for drawings of war and hunting exploits.

Some grisly discoveries helped to explain the drumming and singing heard by the soldiers before the fight began. Billy Garnett, Lieutenant Bourke, Jerry Roche, and others reported that some saddles found in the village were recognized by Shoshone scouts as those of friends. Fresh scalps were hanging from lodgepoles. With discovery of the saddles and the scalps the Shoshone scouts began to cry openly as they moved about the village. Baptiste Pourier in going through lodges also found two necklaces made of human fingers; one was buried that night, the other given to Lieutenant Bourke. Finally a buckskin bag was opened. Within were the right hands of a dozen Indian children, all members of a band of thirty Shoshones out hunting which had been surprised and rubbed out by the Cheyenne only a few days earlier. The bag was given to the Shoshones. Bourke later recorded,

There was little sleep for our people during that cold, frosty night. Half crazed with grief, the Shoshones gave full range to their sorrow in their weeping and singing, weirdly monotonous but deeply impressive … Letting their hair hang down over face and shoulders, they danced and wailed until daylight.30

In midafternoon the soldiers had been fighting in their shirtsleeves, but with the coming of night the temperature plunged. Fires were built to warm the wounded. Killed outright had been one lieutenant and five troopers. Bourke thought the Indian dead numbered at least thirty, perhaps more. The Pawnee had taken twelve scalps, he wrote, the Shoshones three or four. Frank Grouard later claimed one. None of the 150 Sioux scouts who took part in the fight claimed a scalp, a probable sign that they were willing enough to run off Cheyenne horses but balked at killing former allies. Billy Garnett had been one of those counting the dead Cheyenne, making his way through the destroyed village, where the bodies of horses littered the ground and thick smoke from burning lodges filled the air. Garnett’s personal count was seventeen dead, one of them a woman. Another was a dead son of Dull Knife, killed early in the fight by Luther North.

With Garnett at that moment was Louis Shangreau, the mixed-blood called Louis Hanska—Tall Louis—by the Indians, who had run for his life with Garnett the night of the killing in Yellow Bear’s lodge. Together they approached the body of Dull Knife’s son, someone Garnett had often seen at the old Sod Agency on the North Platte in the early 1870s. Garnett was not quite sure which of Dull Knife’s two eldest sons lay dead before him, but he remembered the moment vividly.

[He] was lying across the stream southwest of the village on … his back as if he had dropped asleep, undisturbed and at peace with all the world. He was a young man of noble mien and handsome face. He wore a blanket of fine cloth in two colors—one-half red, the other blue. This was doubled and suspended from his waist … Garnett says his hair was light, tinged with golden hue, unusually long, and the most beautiful he ever saw on an Indian.31

Hung by a leather thong around the dead man’s body was a standard cavalry trooper’s trapdoor carbine, the gun he had been leveling at Luther North when North shot and killed him. Garnett and Shangreau had both been working for whites for years but now, suddenly, Garnett wanted to do an Indian thing. He suggested to Shangreau that they count coup on the fallen enemy, and they did, jumping down from their horses in classic fashion and striking the dead man with their horse quirts.

Shangreau went a step further, taking plunder from the body. He pulled loose the dead man’s gun and then slipped his moccasins off his feet. These moccasins, Garnett remembered, were beaded and finely worked. Garnett took nothing from the field, but a couple of days later, when Mackenzie was distributing the captured Cheyenne horses among the scouts, he asked the colonel if he might have two that he said the Indians would not want. “Mackenzie told him to get them and he did.” These were American horses, and both had been taken from Custer’s men at the Little Bighorn.32 So Garnett returned from this expedition with classic Sioux war honors: he had killed one man and counted coup on another, and he rode home leading captured horses.

Crook’s plan immediately after the fight on the Red Fork was the same again—push after the village of Crazy Horse, somewhere up along the Tongue. The weather did not cooperate; temperatures plunging below zero and snow the first night pinned Crook’s men where they were, and over the following days it was hard going to the Belle Fourche River, where they camped as winter deepened. On the Belle Fourche, Crook seemed to run out of steam. Several weeks went by as he waited for news and ruminated alone how to proceed. In mid-December his Sioux scouts came up with a new idea and proposed it to him in a council a few days before Christmas. About twenty Indians and military officers filed into a large tent where Fast Thunder from the Spotted Tail Agency and Keeps the Battle from the Red Cloud Agency laid out a simple plan, repeating each other and speaking at length: winter had set in, the horses were already in poor condition, better if they all returned to Camp Robinson and tried suasion instead of war. As remembered by William Garnett, the two scouts described the alternative strategy as follows:

If the command should go back now the Indians would undertake by all the influences in their power to get the hostile Indians to return to the agency this winter and the coming spring; that they would persuade the Indians on other Agencies who had members of their tribes out with Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull to send embassies to the camps of these chiefs to induce them to return to their homes on the reservations; and if possible, they would convince the chiefs themselves that it was a vain hope to stay out and perhaps could bring them in.33

The other Indians often interrupted Fast Thunder and Keeps the Battle. At every interruption, General Crook would lean over to Garnett to ask what he was saying. Garnett assured him they were only trying to make sure nothing was left out. All had been exhaustively discussed beforehand. The central point was spelled out by one of the two scouts—probably Fast Thunder, who had already stressed it in an earlier council:

The Indians proposed to use as an argument with the hostiles when they should go out to see them, that they were working for a home agency with General Crook assisting them to obtain it. This was another reminder to the general that they were relying on him and that they were doing their part in the agreement they had with him; and this is one more instance showing that they did not intend he should forget his obligations.

Crook talked over this approach with his staff, then summoned the Indians back to a second meeting, where he appropriated the scouts’ proposal as his own. “Most of you have friends or relatives out with Crazy Horse and the Northern Cheyennes,” Crook told them. “You had better advise your friends to come in … They will have easy terms if they come in now, but when spring comes, we are going to … kill them like dogs wherever we find them.”34

Generals Sheridan in Chicago and Sherman at Army headquarters were both still breathing fire, eager for Crook to crush the hostiles in midwinter. But Crook had now made a decision for talk, not war. This he kept to himself for the time being. To Sheridan he merely wrote that the hostiles were running in all directions, his own horses and mules were played out, and no fresh ones were to be had.

“Will start back for Fetterman in the morning,” he said.35

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