GENERAL SHERIDAN AT HIS headquarters in Chicago was leaving nothing to chance. He wanted to force an end to the Sioux war and didn’t quite trust the good news from General Crook, who reported that Crazy Horse was close to surrender. Welcome if true, in Sheridan’s view, but he pressed Crook to prepare a spring campaign against the Indians all the same. At the military posts and in the Indian camps nobody was sure which would happen first—the surrender of the Oglala chief with the last of the hostiles, or the outfitting of another expeditionary force to take the field against the holdouts. Western newspapers reported the progress of both developments, stirring the wives of military officers with dread and uncertainty. “There are rumors of another Indian expedition in the spring,” Caroline Frey Winne wrote her brother from the Sidney Barracks in late February, “but nobody knows anything.”1
At Fort Leavenworth in Kansas where she had been spending the winter, the uncertainty weighed heavily on the spirits of Alice Baldwin, prey to extreme emotional swings under the best of circumstances. Her husband, Lieutenant Frank Baldwin, had distinguished himself in the battle with Crazy Horse at Wolf Mountain, leading the charge up the butte which drove off the Indians and allowed General Miles to claim a victory. An account of his exploit in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat a week before Christmas filled her with pride—“I seemed to tread on air for a day,” she wrote. But the pride didn’t last long. “What a pity,” she reflected miserably, “[that] Frank has made himself famous … [because] he has not a wife worthy of him.”
Self-pity filled her letters, a despondent cry from the heart of a woman pushed to the snapping point by the constants of frontier military life: boredom, loneliness, and fear. From Fort Leavenworth, as winter drew to a close, Alice started north by steamboat to join her husband at Miles’s headquarters. “I have been looking at the illustrations in Harper’s Weekly of the cantonment on the Tongue River,” she wrote Frank. Shown in woodcuts were structures little better than huts, half buried in snow. “It looked dismal enough,” she commented. Dread of life in the wilderness was joined by fear.
I read in a late paper that Crazy Horse threatened to wipe out everyone on the Yellowstone and that active preparation was being made by them for war … [a friend] told me tonight that those Indians surrendering and giving up their ponies was merely a blind. That probably they were reserving their best horses etc. etc. Oh this eternal, inevitable “spring campaign” I am tired of. And apparently as far from being ended as ever. Look at past experiences. Facts can’t be denied. You and all the others know, no matter how badly they may be whipped and punished—they keep out and with renewed vigor when spring comes and the grass has grown … If I could only know you would be safe and not get killed.2
Alice Baldwin feared a renewed war, a husband dead on the prairie like so many with Custer the year before, an impoverished widowhood. Lieutenant Fred Calhoun at Camp Robinson was following the news as well, but it was anger, not fear, that tormented him. He had been brooding all winter about the killing of his brother Jim, whose body had been left in a shallow grave on the hills east of the Little Bighorn. Only a week or two after the fight, Captain Myles Moylan, an officer of the 7th married to Calhoun’s sister Charlotte, had written to say, “I was present when Jim was buried and recognized him at a glance.” Fred had the consolation at least of knowing where his brother lay; many of the dead had been too badly mutilated or decomposed for identification.3
That fall after the end of the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition, Calhoun spent his days in the office at the Red Cloud Agency, where his commander, Captain Thomas Tobey, was serving as the acting agent for the Oglala. One of Calhoun’s duties was to take a census of the Indians, recording their names, bands, and other information in a ledger book. Later that winter Calhoun helped Lieutenant Clark recruit Brulé Sioux to serve as scouts. In April, when fifteen hundred northern Indians came in to surrender at the Spotted Tail Agency, several of them turned in small items taken from the dead at the Little Bighorn. Among them was a pocket watch, soon identified as one owned by Fred’s brother James. Fred mailed the watch with a letter to the sorrowing widow, Margaret.
Thus continually reminded of his brother’s death, Fred Calhoun brooded. As spring approached, he learned that an Army detail would be sent out in the coming summer to retrieve the bodies of officers from the Little Bighorn. Fred wanted to go, and he wrote seeking help from an old Cincinnati friend, Charles Turner, a close supporter of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Fred told his friend that the Custer family was “anxious” for him to go and of course he “wanted to be present when my brother’s remains are to be removed.” Behind these mild hopes anger seethed. Scouts coming in from Crazy Horse’s band said the chief would surrender with two hundred lodges of his people in a week’s time—early May, he wrote.
This ends the Indian war for the present. Of course it does not permanently end it for history will repeat itself and in a year or two they will all go out again. It is a very unsatisfactory ending for me, as I wanted to see them completely crushed, if not exterminated. Of course, the massacre of the entire Indian race would not repay my loss of last summer, but the only way to insure lasting peace with them is to give them a good sound whipping, and these northern Indians have never yet been whipped.4
Anger at the Indians was not limited to those in the field. Sheridan and Sherman wanted to hurt and humble them as well. Over the previous decade both had spoken often of “exterminating” the Indians if they did not submit, but the word was used casually, almost as a way of letting off steam. The humiliating defeat of Custer added a sharp new edge to their anger. In the first week of May, Sheridan wrote Sherman to suggest that surrender of the Indians might now “permit us to take up the question of punishing the leaders … Have you any views on the subject?” Sherman did. As Sheridan’s query crossed his desk on its way through official channels Sherman scribbled a stark sentence on the document: “If some of the worst Indians could be executed I doubt not the result would be good—but that is impossible after surrender under conditions.” He sounds almost wistful. But in the end he and the rest of official Washington went back to the old plan: transfer of the Sioux to new agencies on the Missouri River. “Better to remove all to a safe place and then reduce them to a helpless condition,” Sherman wrote.5
There was one trouble with this plan: the Indians did not want to move, and the military officers at the agencies believed the Indians would refuse to go. In mid-April the influential chiefs of three Oglala bands—American Horse, Yellow Bear, and Young Man Afraid of His Horses—told Colonel Mackenzie that if they had to leave Nebraska they wanted a new agency on the Tongue River.6 Lieutenants Clark and Jesse Lee at the Spotted Tail Agency had been telling Crook the same thing: the Indians didn’t want to go to the Missouri. Crook was under no illusions about Indian feeling on the matter. The previous fall, on the expedition that attacked the Cheyenne on the Red Fork of the Powder River, Crook had promised the scouts he would try to get what they wanted: a home in the north. But he spoke with care. Crook promised to help, to tell the president what the Sioux wanted, to argue in their behalf, but added that such matters were not up to him alone. “They must be decided in Washington.”
A promise was as sacred as a threat, in Crook’s view; neither should be made lightly. He explained his philosophy of dealing with Indians to Jesse Lee in late February when the lieutenant arrived to take over the Spotted Tail Agency. “He told me, for one thing, not to promise anything that I could not carry out,” Lee said later, “and whenever I did promise anything to always keep my word.”7
Crook’s promise to help the Sioux find a home in the north was tested many times over the spring and summer of 1877, beginning with a telegram from Sheridan on April 22 saying that Sherman and the commissioner of Indian affairs were prepared and determined to move the Indians to the Missouri in June. “I want your opinion on this proposition,” Sheridan wrote, “and would like to have it as soon as possible.”8 Crook felt this matter was too important for a letter; he delivered his response in person a week later, arguing against the move. It was the proposed relocation that brought Crook to Chicago, but during an interview with a reporter for the Chicago Post, held in the Grand Pacific Hotel, the general concealed the purpose of his trip, stressing instead that it was time to put the Sioux to work. “They did absolutely nothing but loaf about,” the Post reported. “General Crook saw no reason why the Indians could not make their own living … ‘Give him a piece of land,’ said General Crook, ‘show him how to cultivate it, and he will be anxious to hold on to what he has and to better himself.’ ”
Not a word about moving the Indians out of Nebraska. Crook took his thoughts on that to Washington, where he had a long conference on May 5 with the secretary of the interior, Carl Schurz, and the commissioner of Indian affairs, John Q. Smith. The newspapers led their stories next day with the general’s tough talk: “[T]he Indians should be compelled to work for their grub.” Those who read to the end learned, almost as an afterthought, that “the Indians will not be removed until next autumn.”9 Crook had kept his promise and done what he could.
Crazy Horse shook the hand of a white official for the first time on the first or second day of May 1877. The honor went to a young Army officer sent out with food for the hostiles, Second Lieutenant J. Wesley Rosenquest.10 The place was a flat along the bank of Hat Creek, one of the many winding and frequently dry creek beds that crisscrossed the grasslands where the state of Nebraska met the territories of Dakota and Wyoming. The stage road from Fort Laramie to the Black Hills crossed Hat Creek about forty miles from Camp Robinson, and it was near that spot that Crazy Horse met the soldiers. Watching the historic handshake was Billy Garnett, just turned twenty-two, who had ridden out with the ten wagons of provisions to serve as interpreter. Also along were some drovers with a hundred agency beeves and a body of about fifty Indian scouts led by American Horse, who was by this time one of the Oglala chiefs most trusted by the U.S. military.
As the Crazy Horse band approached, American Horse led his scouts out in front of the whites and bade them sit upon the grass. Rosenquest was baffled by this maneuver, but Garnett knew what the chief had in mind. It was the custom of Indians coming to make peace to give a present to the men they first met, and accordingly some of Crazy Horse’s men moved ahead of the others, leading horses, and gave one to each of the scouts sitting in line. They did not overlook American Horse or Rosenquest, who was surprised to be handed the lead string of a pony. Then Crazy Horse stepped forward to shake the hand of the lieutenant, followed by “all the chiefs,” according to Garnett.11
From Hat Creek over the following days Crazy Horse and the small military escort under Rosenquest made their way to Soldier Creek, which fed into the White River near the parade ground at Camp Robinson. The progress of the Indians was reported by daily telegrams sent on the newly completed line between the post and Fort Laramie. Solemn and deliberate ceremony marked the day on which Crazy Horse gave up his old life, along with his horses and guns, to make his home at the agency. It was only now, as they approached Camp Robinson, that He Dog realized they were not coming in to trade or to receive annuities or to visit with relatives; they were coming in to surrender. But they did not use the word “surrender.” Crazy Horse told his relative Little Killer that he had been “captured.” From Fort Robinson he would be going on to Washington. “The white people … wanted our guns and horses—the things we fought with,” said Little Killer later. “Crazy Horse said, ‘All right, let them have them.’ ” 12
When the northern Indians were about seven miles from the agency they were met by Red Cloud with a large group of Indians and white soldiers including Lieutenant Clark. This was no casual encounter. According to Clark, it had all been spelled out in advance by Crazy Horse, who had stipulated how “making peace”—not surrender—should be conducted. As Clark approached he was met first by Crazy Horse seated on a spotted pony with “about ten of his headmen,” formed in a line. Behind them in a second line were the rest of the fighting men, also on horseback, several hundred in all. And behind the fighting men were the women and children. Taken all together they numbered one short of nine hundred.13
Many of the Indians and whites who took part left accounts of what was said and done.14 All accounts agree that for the Oglala, Crazy Horse and He Dog played the leading role. Each laid a blanket on the ground, Crazy Horse making a place for Red Cloud to sit, He Dog a place for Clark. According to Billy Garnett, who was seated near Clark, one of the Indians told Crazy Horse, “Shake hands with him with your left hand for that is the side your heart lays.” Explaining further, the Indian added, “The right hand does all manner of wickedness.”
Crazy Horse shook hands with Lieutenant Clark, saying, “I want to shake hands while seated, because that means our peace shall last.” He said, “Kola [friend], I want this peace to last forever.”
Garnett then interpreted as the lieutenant gave an opening prayer. He Dog in turn prepared a pipe in the proper way, offering it up toward the sky and speaking the proper words. “Now if you are in earnest,” he said to the lieutenant, “I want you to take a puff of this pipe of peace.” Clark puffed on the pipe and then, according to He Dog, he “blew some of the smoke out of his mouth, and rubbed the smoke on his body, his clothes, to show he meant what he said.”15 After that, He Dog said, “I gave him my war clothes, my gun and my horse in token that I would fight no more.”16 Crazy Horse in turn made similar gifts to Red Cloud, saying, “I want the children … to be protected, and the women, and for that I am giving you this horse and blanket which is trimmed with porcupine work.”17
To Clark, Crazy Horse said, “I have been a man of war and have always protected my country against invaders. Now I am for peace. I will look at the ground and fight no more. I will settle down and attend to my own business.”18 According to He Dog’s brother, Short Bull, Crazy Horse also said one more thing, describing to Clark the place where he wanted his people to live. The chief said his first choice would have been Goose Creek, where General Crook had camped for so long after the Rosebud fight. But if he couldn’t take his people to Goose Creek, he knew of another good country where there was plenty of grass for horses and for game. It was near the Tongue River. Crazy Horse said, “There is a creek over there they call Beaver Creek; there is a great big flat west of the headwaters of Beaver Creek; I want my agency put right in the middle of that flat.”19
With those words said and those gifts bestowed the whole company made their way to the Red Cloud Agency. Crook was away in the east but his aide John Bourke, standing with other military officers at the post, watched the mass of Indians approach at about two o’clock, calling it “one of the most impressive spectacles I ever witnessed.” For sheer gorgeous splendor there was nothing like a great crowd of Indians all dressed in their finest, sitting on their ponies, singing their songs. They made a column “not much under two miles in length,” Bourke estimated. He and others all noticed that Little Hawk was wearing around his neck a silver peace medal. At first opportunity Bourke determined that the medal had been struck during the term of President James Monroe and given to Little Hawk’s father at a peace conference on the North Platte in 1817. But Bourke and others also noted that the ponies were thin, and the lodges in tatters. Something else struck Bourke’s eye. The bustle of an Indian camp on the move usually included packs of dogs running and yipping, but on this day only the occasional furtive dog was seen. Most of the dog tribe, Bourke guessed, had been eaten.20
The Indians may have insisted that they were “making peace,” but the military at Camp Robinson wasted no time in taking away their guns and horses—the first step in reducing them to a “helpless condition,” in Sherman’s words. During the talk and handshaking at Hat Creek, American Horse and his scouts had taken careful note of the men with guns. As soon as the lodges were up, Lieutenant Clark called for the guns to be brought forward and a pile began to gather in front of him. The range was wide, according to one military officer, starting with “muzzle-loaders of every pattern, from the small-bore Kentucky squirrel-rifle to a terrible weapon approaching the blunderbuss style.”21
The antique weapons belonged mainly to old men and boys. It was the warriors in their prime who laid down a “Colt’s improved army revolver” or breech-loading carbine taken from the dead at the Little Bighorn. Others were armed with large-caliber Sharps sporting guns, mostly seized, the officers guessed, from whites killed in the Black Hills. Crazy Horse and his uncle Little Hawk between them surrendered five late-model Winchester repeating rifles. Other chiefs came forward and, in Bourke’s words, “laid sticks down upon the ground, saying, ‘Kola, this is my gun, this little one is a pistol; send to my lodge and get them.’ ” In each case, Bourke said, when Billy Garnett and Frank Grouard went around with military officers to the man’s lodge the guns were found, just as described.22
But when the pile in front of Lieutenant Clark was declared complete by Crazy Horse there weren’t enough guns, in the officer’s view—only seventy-five or so. The scouts with American Horse said they had counted another thirty or forty which were missing. “Lieutenant Clark at once told him that was too thin,” Bourke recalled.
With Grouard, Garnett, and a small detachment of soldiers, Clark went around to the lodges and collected another forty weapons, piling them into a wagon. One of the officers at the same time took a census of the 899 Indians who had ridden into the agency that day. This was the last significant body of hostile Sioux south of Canada, where Sitting Bull and his people had taken refuge. It was hard to see how so few had caused so much consternation—217 fighting men (“adult males” in the census) armed with bows and arrows and 117 firearms, by final count.23 The toll of so much fighting over the previous year was apparent; the men were heavily outnumbered by the women, 312 in all, some listed in the census as “widows” who were heads of families. The whole band had ridden into the agency with about seventeen hundred horses and mules, quite a few branded “U.S.” All were seized and given to the scouts who had signed up with Crook since the previous fall, according to Garnett.
But almost as soon as the northern Indians were gunless and on foot, the military changed its mind. Only a week after the surrender, Clark told Billy Garnett he planned to give Crazy Horse and about twenty of his men a chance to enlist as United States Army scouts. Not only would they get their horses back, but they would be issued Sharps carbines and Colt revolvers. Garnett believed this was foolish and overtrusting; he was sure that General Crook would be against the idea. The other scouts had signed up with Crook’s promise they would be treated as leading men. Now the Crazy Horse Indians were to be made equals, given guns, and paid just like the Indians who had actually gone to war at Crook’s side.
Garnett was ten years younger than Clark and he was a mixed-blood, held in low esteem by most whites. But he spoke his mind and he “kicked to Clark,” he said later, denouncing the plan to make scouts of Crazy Horse and his men. But Clark “in the goodness of his heart” was determined to go through with his plan. Making them scouts, he believed, would “convince the late hostiles of his confidence in them.” So Garnett rode out to Crazy Horse’s camp several miles down the White River with Clark’s offer, and “they jumped at the chance.” That same day they returned with Garnett to the post and touched the pen. Crazy Horse and several others were given rank as sergeants. Among the twenty who signed up with him were Little Hawk, He Dog, Big Road, Looking Horse, and Little Big Man—all considered dangerous hostiles only a week earlier.24