1865—April 2, Confederates abandon Richmond. April 9, Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox; Civil War ends. April 14, John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Lincoln; Andrew Johnson becomes President. June 13, President Johnson issues proclamation for reconstruction of former Confederate States. October, U.S. asks France to recall troops from Mexico. December 18, Thirteenth Amendment to U.S. Constitution abolishes slavery. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Tolstoy’s War and Peace published.
Whose voice was first sounded on this land? The voice of the red people who had but bows and arrows. … What has been done in my country I did not want, did not ask for it; white people going through my country. … When the white man comes in my country he leaves a trail of blood behind him. … I have two mountains in that country—the Black Hills and the Big Horn Mountain. I want the Great Father to make no roads through them. I have told these things three times; now I have come here to tell them the fourth time.
—MAHPIUA LUTA (RED CLOUD) OF THE OGLALA SIOUX
AFTER RETURNING TO THE Powder River country following the Platte Bridge fight, the Plains Indians began preparing for their usual summer medicine ceremonies. The tribes camped near each other at the mouth of Crazy Woman’s Fork of the Powder. Farther north along that river and the Little Missouri were some Teton Sioux who had moved west that year to get away from General Sully’s soldiers in Dakota. Sitting Bull and his Hunkpapa people were there, and these cousins of the Oglalas sent emissaries down for a big sun dance, the annual religious renewal of the Tetons. While the sun dance was in progress, the Cheyennes held their medicine-arrows ceremony, which lasted four days. The Arrow Keeper unwrapped the four secret arrows from their coyote fur bag, and all the males in the tribe passed by to make an offering and pray to the arrows.
Black Bear, one of the leading chiefs of the Northern Arapahos, decided to take his people west to Tongue River; he invited some of the Southern Arapahos who had come north after Sand Creek to go with them. They would set up a village on the Tongue, he said, and have many hunts and dances before the coming of the cold moons.
And so by late August, 1865, the tribes in the Powder River country were scattered from the Bighorns on the west to the Black Hills on the east. They were so sure of the country’s impregnability that most of them were skeptical when they first began hearing rumors of soldiers coming at them from four directions.
Three of the soldier columns were under command of General Patrick E. Connor, who had transferred from Utah in May to fight Indians along the Platte route. In 1863 Star Chief Connor had surrounded a camp of Paiutes on Bear River and butchered 278 of them. For this he was hailed by the white men as a brave defender of the frontier from the “red foe.”
In July, 1865, Connor announced that the Indians north of the Platte “must be hunted like wolves,” and he began organizing three columns of soldiers for an invasion of the Powder River country. One column under Colonel Nelson Cole would march from Nebraska to the Black Hills of Dakota. A second column under Colonel Samuel Walker would move straight north from Fort Laramie to link up with Cole in the Black Hills. The third column, with Connor himself in command, would head in a northwesterly direction along the Bozeman Road toward Montana. General Connor thus hoped to trap the Indians between his column and the combined forces of Cole and Walker. He warned his officers to accept no overtures of peace from the Indians, and ordered bluntly: “Attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age.” 1
Early in August the three columns were set in motion. If everything went according to plan, they would rendezvous about September 1 on Rosebud River in the heart of hostile Indian country.
A fourth column, which had no connection with Connor’s expeditions, was also approaching the Powder River country from the east. Organized by a civilian, James A. Sawyers, to open a new overland route, this column had no objective other than to reach the Montana gold fields. Because Sawyers knew that he would be trespassing on Indian treaty lands, he expected resistance and therefore had obtained two companies of infantrymen to escort his group of seventy-three goldseekers and eighty wagons of supplies.
It was about August 14 or 15 when the Sioux and Cheyennes who were camped along the Powder first learned of Sawyers’ approaching train. “Our hunters rode into camp much excited,” George Bent recalled afterward, “and said soldiers were up the river. Our village crier, a man named Bull Bear, mounted and rode about our camp, crying that soldiers were coming. Red Cloud got in his herd and mounted and rode through the Sioux camp, crying the same thing for the Sioux. Everybody ran for ponies. At such times a man always took any pony he wanted; if the pony was killed in the fight the rider did not have to pay its owner for it, but everything the rider captured in battle belonged to the owner of the pony he rode. When all were mounted we rode up the Powder about fifteen miles, where we came upon the Sawyers ‘road-building party,’ a big train of emigrants moving along with soldiers marching on each side of it.” 2
As part of their booty taken during the Platte Bridge fight the Indians had brought back some Army uniforms and bugles. On leaving camp, George Bent hastily donned an officer’s blouse, and his brother Charlie carried along a bugle. They thought these things might mystify the soldiers and make them jumpy. About five hundred Sioux and Cheyennes were in the war party, and both Red Cloud and Dull Knife went along. The chiefs were very angry that soldiers had come into their country without asking permission.
When they first sighted the wagon train, it was moving along between two hills with a herd of about three hundred cattle in the rear. The Indians divided and spread out along opposite ridges, and at a signal began firing upon the soldier escorts. In a few minutes the train formed in a circular corral with the cattle herded inside and the wagon wheels interlocked.
For two or three hours the warriors amused themselves by creeping down gullies and suddenly opening fire at close range. A few of the more daring riders galloped in close, circled the wagons, and then swept out of range. After the soldiers started firing their two howitzers, the warriors kept behind little hillocks, uttering war cries and insulting the soldiers. Charlie Bent blew his bugle several times and shouted all the Anglo-Saxon profanity he could remember hearing around his father’s trading post. (“They taunted us in a most aggravating manner,” one of the besieged goldseekers said afterward. “Some few of them could speak enough English to call us all the vile names imaginable.” 3)
The wagon train could not move, but neither could the Indians get at it. About midday, to end the stalemate, the chiefs ordered a white flag hoisted. A few minutes later a man in buckskins came riding out of the wagon corral. Because the Bent brothers could speak English, they were sent down to meet the emissary. The man was a good-humored Mexican, Juan Suse, and he was as much surprised by the Bents’ English as he was by George’s blue uniform blouse. Suse, who knew little English, had to use sign language, but he managed to make them understand that the commander of the wagon train was willing to parley with the Indian chiefs.
A meeting was quickly arranged, the Bents becoming interpreters now for Red Cloud and Dull Knife. Colonel Sawyers and Captain George Williford came out from the corral with a small escort. Colonel Sawyers’ title was honorary, but he considered himself in command of the wagon train. Captain Williford’s title was genuine; his two companies of soldiers were Galvanized Yankees, former Confederate prisoners of war. Williford’s nerves were on edge. He was unsure of his men, unsure of his authority on the expedition. He glared at the blue uniform coat worn by the half-breed Cheyenne interpreter, George Bent.
When Red Cloud demanded an explanation for the presence of soldiers in the Indians’ country, Captain Williford replied by asking why the Indians had attacked peaceful white men. Charlie Bent, still embittered by memories of Sand Creek, told Williford that the Cheyennes would fight all white men until the government hanged Colonel Chivington. Sawyers protested that he had not come to fight Indians; he was seeking a short route to the Montana gold fields, and only wanted to pass through the country.
“I interpreted to the chiefs,” George Bent said afterward, “and Red Cloud replied if the whites would go clear out of his country and make no roads it was all right. Dull Knife said the same for the Cheyennes; then both chiefs said for the officer [Williford] to take the train due west from this place, then turn north and when he had passed the Bighorn Mountains he would be out of their country.” 4
Sawyers again protested. To follow such a route would take him too far out of his way; he said he wanted to move north along the Powder River valley to find a fort that General Connor was building there.
This was the first news that Red Cloud and Dull Knife had heard of General Connor and his invasion. They expressed surprise and anger that soldiers would dare build a fort in the heart of their hunting grounds. Seeing that the chiefs were growing hostile, Sawyers quickly offered them a wagonload of goods—flour, sugar, coffee, and tobacco. Red Cloud suggested that gunpowder, shot, and caps be added to the list, but Captain Williford objected strongly; in fact, the military officer was opposed to giving the Indians anything.
Finally the chiefs agreed to accept a full wagonload of flour, sugar, coffee, and tobacco in exchange for granting permission for the train to move to Powder River. “The officer told me,” George Bent later said, “to hold the Indians back away from the train and he would unload the goods on the ground. He wanted to go on to the river and camp. This was at noon. After he reached the river and corralled his train there, another lot of Sioux came up from the village. The wagonload of goods had already been divided by the first party of Indians, so these newcomers demanded more goods, and when the officer refused they began firing on the corral.” 5
This second band of Sioux harassed Sawyers and Williford for several days, but Red Cloud and Dull Knife and their warriors took no part in it. They moved on up the valley to see if there was anything to the rumors of soldiers building a fort on the Powder.
In the meantime, Star Chief Connor had started construction of a stockade about sixty miles south of the Crazy Woman Fork of the Powder and named it in honor of himself, Fort Connor. With Connor’s column was a company of Pawnee scouts under command of Captain Frank North. The Pawnees were old tribal enemies of the Sioux, Cheyennes, and Arapahos, and they had been enlisted for the campaign at regular cavalrymen’s pay. While the soldiers cut logs for Connor’s stockade, the Pawnees scouted the area in search of their enemies. On August 16 they sighted a small party of Cheyennes approaching from the south. With them was Charlie Bent’s mother, Yellow Woman.
She was riding with four men slightly in advance of the main party, and when she first saw the Pawnees on a low hill she thought they were Cheyennes or Sioux. The Pawnees signaled with their blankets that they were friends, and the Cheyennes moved on toward them, suspecting no danger. When the Cheyennes came close to the hill, the Pawnees suddenly attacked them. And so Yellow Woman, who had left William Bent because he was a member of the white race, died at the hands of a mercenary of her own race. On that day her son Charlie was only a few miles to the east with Dull Knife’s warriors, returning from the siege of Sawyers’ wagon train.
10. Red Cloud, or Mahpiua-luta, of the Oglala Dakotas. Photographed by Charles M. Bell in Washington, D.C., in 1880. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
On August 22 General Connor decided that the stockade on the Powder was strong enough to be held by one cavalry company. Leaving most of his supplies there, he started with the remainder of his column on a forced march toward the Tongue River valley in search of any large concentrations of Indian lodges that his scouts might find. Had he moved north along the Powder he would have found thousands of Indians eager for a fight—Red Cloud’s and Dull Knife’s warriors who were out searching for Connor’s soldiers.
About a week after Connor’s column left the Powder, a Cheyenne warrior named Little Horse was traveling across this same country with his wife and young son. Little Horse’s wife was an Arapaho woman, and they were making a summer visit to see her relatives at Black Bear’s Arapaho camp on Tongue River. Along the way one day, a pack on his wife’s horse got loose. When she dismounted to tighten it, she happened to glance back across a ridge. A file of mounted men was coming along the trail far behind them.
“Look over there,” she called to Little Horse.
“They’re soldiers!” Little Horse cried. “Hurry!”
As soon as they were over the next hill, and out of view of the soldiers, they turned off the trail. Little Horse cut loose the travois on which his young son was riding, took the boy on behind him, and they rode fast—straight across country for Black Bear’s camp. They came galloping in, disturbing the peaceful village of 250 lodges pitched on a mesa above the river. The Arapahos were rich in ponies that year; three thousand were corralled along the stream.
None of the Arapahos believed that soldiers could be within hundreds of miles, and when Little Horse’s wife tried to get the crier to warn the people, he said: “Little Horse has made a mistake; he just saw some Indians coming over the trail, and nothing more.” Certain that the horsemen they had seen were soldiers, Little Horse and his wife hurried on to find her relatives. Her brother, Panther, was resting in front of his tepee, and they told him that soldiers were coming and that he had better move out in a hurry. “Pack up whatever you wish to take along,” Little Horse said. “We must go tonight.”
Panther laughed at his Cheyenne brother-in-law. “You’re always getting frightened and making mistakes about things,” he said. “You saw nothing but some buffalo.”
“Very well,” Little Horse replied, “you need not go unless you want to, but we shall go tonight.” His wife managed to persuade some of her other relatives to pack up, and before nightfall they left the village and moved several miles down the Tongue. 6
Early the next morning, Star Chief Connor’s soldiers attacked the Arapaho camp. By chance, a warrior who had taken one of his race horses out for a run happened to see the troops assembling behind a ridge. He galloped back to camp as fast as he could, giving some of the Arapahos a chance to flee down the river.
A few moments later, at the sound of a bugle and the blast of a howitzer, eighty Pawnee scouts and 250 of Connor’s cavalrymen charged the village from two sides. The Pawnees swerved toward the three thousand ponies which the Arapaho herders were desperately trying to scatter along the river valley. The village, which had been peaceful and quiet a few minutes before, suddenly became a scene of fearful tumult—horses rearing and whinnying, dogs barking, women screaming, children crying, warriors and soldiers yelling and cursing.
The Arapahos tried to form a line of defense to screen the flight of their noncombatants, but in the first rattle of rifle fire some women and children were caught between the warriors and the cavalrymen. “The troops,” said one of Connor’s officers, “killed a warrior, who, falling from his horse, dropped two Indian children he had been carrying. In retreating, the Indians left the children about halfway between the two lines, where they could not be reached by either party.” The children were shot down. 7
“I was in the village in the midst of a hand-to-hand fight with warriors and their squaws,” another officer said, “for many of the female portion of this band did as brave fighting as their savage lords. Unfortunately for the women and children, our men had no time to direct their aim … squaws and children, as well as warriors, fell among the dead and wounded.” 8
As quickly as they could catch ponies, the Arapahos mounted and began retreating up Wolf Creek, the soldiers pressing after them. With the soldiers was a scout in buckskins, and some of the older Arapahos recognized him as an old acquaintance who had trapped along the Tongue and Powder years before and had married one of their women. They had considered him a friend. Blanket, they called him, Blanket Jim Bridger. Now he was a mercenary like the Pawnees.
For ten miles the Arapahos retreated that day, and when the soldiers’ horses grew tired, the warriors turned on them, using their old trade guns upon the Bluecoats and stinging them with arrows. By early afternoon Black Bear and his warriors pushed Connor’s cavalrymen back to the village, but artillerymen had mounted two howitzers there, and the big-talking guns filled the air with whistling pieces of metal. The Arapahos could go no farther.
While the Arapahos watched from the hills, the soldiers tore down all the lodges in the village and heaped poles, tepee covers, buffalo robes, blankets, furs, and thirty tons of pemmican into great mounds and set fire to them. Everything the Arapahos owned—shelter, clothing, and their winter supply of food—went up in smoke. And then the soldiers and the Pawnees mounted up and went away with the ponies they had captured, a thousand animals, one-third of the tribe’s pony herd.
During the afternoon Little Horse, the Cheyenne who had tried to warn the Arapahos that soldiers were coming, heard the sound of the big guns. As soon as the soldiers left, he and his wife and those of her relatives who had heeded their warning came back into the burned village. They found more than fifty dead Indians. Panther, Little Horse’s brother-in-law, was lying beside a circle of yellowed grass where his lodge had stood that morning. Many others, including Black Bear’s son, were badly wounded and soon would die. The Arapahos had nothing left except the ponies they had saved from capture, a few old guns, their bows and arrows, and the clothing they were wearing when the soldiers charged into the village. This was the Battle of Tongue River that happened in the Moon When the Geese Shed Their Feathers.
Next morning some of the warriors followed after Connor’s cavalrymen, who were heading north toward the Rosebud. On that same day the Sawyers wagon train, which the Sioux and Cheyennes had besieged two weeks earlier, came rolling through the Arapaho country. Infuriated by the presence of so many intruders, the Indians ambushed soldiers scouting ahead of the train, stampeded cattle in the rear, and picked off an occasional wagon driver. Because they had expended most of their ammunition fighting Connor’s cavalrymen, the Arapahos were not strong enough to surround and attack Sawyers’ wagons. They constantly harassed the goldseekers, however, until they passed out of the Bighorn country into Montana.
Star Chief Connor meanwhile marched on toward the Rosebud, searching hungrily for more Indian villages to destroy. As he neared the rendezvous point on the Rosebud, he sent scouts out in all directions to look for the other two columns of his expedition, the ones led by the Eagle Chiefs, Cole and Walker. No trace could be found of either column, and they were a week overdue. On September 9 Connor ordered Captain North to lead his Pawnees in a forced march to Powder River in hopes of intercepting the columns. On the second day the Pawnee mercenaries ran into a blinding sleet storm, and then two days later they found where Cole and Walker had camped not long before. The ground was covered with dead horses, nine hundred of them. The Pawnees “were overcome with astonishment and wonder at the sight, for they did not know how the animals had come to their deaths. Many of the horses had been shot through the head.” 9 Nearby were charred remains in which they found pieces of metal buckles, stirrups, and rings—the remains of burned saddles and harnesses. Captain North was uncertain what to make of this evidence of a disaster; he immediately turned back toward the Rosebud to report to General Connor.
On August 18 the two columns under Cole and Walker had joined along the Belle Fourche River in the Black Hills. Morale of the two thousand troops was low; they were Civil War volunteers who felt they should have been discharged when the war ended in April. Before leaving Fort Laramie, soldiers of one of Walker’s Kansas regiments mutinied and would not march out until artillery was trained upon them. By late August rations for the combined columns were so short that they began slaughtering mules for meat. Scurvy broke out among the men. Because of a shortage of grass and water, their mounts grew weaker and weaker. With men and horses in such condition, neither Cole nor Walker had any desire to press a fight with Indians. Their only objective was to reach the Rosebud for the rendezvous with General Connor.
As for the Indians, there were thousands of them in the sacred places of Paha Sapa, the Black Hills. It was summer, the time for communing with the Great Spirit, for beseeching his pity and seeking visions. Members of all the tribes were there at the center of the world, singly or in small bands, engaged in these religious ceremonies. They watched the dust streamers of two thousand soldiers and their horses and wagons, and hated them for their desecration of Paha Sapa, from where the hoop of the world bent to the four directions. But no war parties were formed, and the Indians kept away from the noisy, dusty column.
On August 28, when Cole and Walker reached the Powder, they sent scouts to the Tongue and Rosebud to find General Connor, but he was still far to the south that day preparing to destroy Black Bear’s Arapaho village. After their scouts returned to camp without finding any trace of Connor, the two commanders put their men on half-rations and decided to start moving south before starvation brought disaster.
During the few days that the soldiers were camped there on the Powder where it curved north toward the Yellowstone, bands of Hunkpapa and Minneconjou Sioux were following their trail out of the Black Hills. By September 1 the trackers numbered nearly four hundred warriors. With them was the Hunkpapa leader, Sitting Bull, who two years before at the Crow Creek camp of the exiled Santees from Minnesota had sworn that he would fight if necessary to save the buffalo country from land-hungry white men.
When the Sioux war party discovered the soldiers camped in timber along the Powder, several of the young men wanted to ride in under a truce flag and see if they could persuade the Bluecoats to give them tobacco and sugar as peace offerings. Sitting Bull did not trust white men and was opposed to such begging, but he held back and let the others send a truce party down toward the camp.
The soldiers waited until the Sioux truce party came within easy rifle range and then fired on them, killing and wounding several of them before they could escape. On their way back to the main body of warriors, the survivors of the truce party made off with several horses from the soldiers’ herd.
Sitting Bull was not surprised at the way the soldiers had treated their peaceful Indian visitors. After looking at the gaunt horses taken from the soldiers’ herd, he decided that four hundred Sioux on fleet-footed mustangs should be an equal match for two thousand soldiers on such half-starved Army mounts. Black Moon, Swift Bear, Red Leaf, Stands-Looking-Back, and most of the other warriors agreed with him. Stands-Looking-Back had a saber that he had captured from one of General Sully’s men in Dakota, and he wanted to try it against the soldiers.
In pictographs that Sitting Bull drew later for his autobiography, he showed himself on that day wearing beaded leggings and a fur cap with earflaps. He was armed with a single-shot muzzle-loader, a bow and quiver, and carried his thunderbird shield.
Riding down to the camp single file, the Sioux encircled the soldiers guarding the horse herd, and began picking them off one by one until a company of cavalrymen came charging up the bank of the Powder. The Sioux quickly withdrew on their fast ponies, keeping out of range until the Bluecoats’ bony mounts began to falter. Then they turned on their pursuers, Stands-Looking-Back in the lead, brandishing his saber and riding right in until he knocked a soldier off his horse. Stands-Looking-Back then wheeled his pony and dashed safely away, yelling with glee over his exploit.
After a few minutes the soldiers reformed, and at the sound of a bugle came charging after the Sioux again. Once more the swift mustangs of the Sioux took them out of range, the Indians scattering until the frustrated soldiers came to a halt. This time the Sioux struck from all sides, racing in among the soldiers and knocking them off their horses. Sitting Bull captured a black stallion, afterward making a pictograph of the event for his autobiography.
Alarmed by the Indian attack, the Eagle Chiefs, Cole and Walker, formed their columns for a forced march southward along the Powder. For a few days the Sioux followed the soldiers, scaring them by appearing suddenly on ridgetops or making little forays against the rear guard. Sitting Bull and the other leaders laughed at how frightened the Bluecoats became, bunching up all the time and looking over their shoulders, and always hurrying, hurrying, trying to get away from them.
When the big sleet storm came, the Indians took shelter for two days, and then one morning they heard scattered firing from the direction the soldiers had gone. The next day they found the abandoned camp with dead horses everywhere. They could see that the horses had been covered with sheets of freezing-rain, and the soldiers had shot them because they could not make them go any farther.
Since many of the frightened Bluecoats were now on foot, the Sioux decided to keep following them and drive them so crazy with fear they would never return to the Black Hills again. Along the way these Hunkpapas and Minneconjous began meeting small scouting parties of Oglala Sioux and Cheyennes who were still out looking for Star Chief Connor’s column. There was great excitement in these meetings. Only a few miles south was a big Cheyenne village, and as runners brought the leaders of the bands together, they began planning a big ambush for the soldiers.
During that summer Roman Nose had made many medicine fasts to obtain special protection against enemies. Like Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, he was determined to fight for his country, and he was also determined to win. White Bull, an old Cheyenne medicine man, advised him to go alone to a medicine lake nearby and live with the water spirits. For four days Roman Nose lay on a raft in the lake without food or water, enduring the hot sun by day and thunderstorms at night. He prayed to the Great Medicine Man and to the water spirits. After Roman Nose returned to camp, White Bull made him a protective war bonnet filled with so many eagle feathers that when he was mounted, the war bonnet trailed almost to the ground.
In September, when the Cheyenne camp first heard about the soldiers fleeing south up the Powder, Roman Nose asked for the privilege of leading a charge against the Bluecoats. A day or two later the soldiers were camped in a bend of the river, with high bluffs and thick timber on both sides. Deciding that this was an excellent place for an attack, the chiefs brought several hundred warriors into position all around the camp and began the fight by sending small decoy parties in to draw the soldiers out of their wagon corral. But the soldiers would not come out.
Now Roman Nose rode up on his white pony, his war bonnet trailing behind him, his face painted for battle. He called to the warriors not to fight singly as they had always done but to fight together as the soldiers did. He told them to form a line on the open ground between the river and the bluffs. The warriors maneuvered their ponies into a line front facing the soldiers, who were formed on foot before their wagons. Roman Nose now danced his white pony along in front of the warriors, telling them to stand fast until he had emptied the soldiers’ guns. Then he slapped the pony into a run and rode straight as an arrow toward one end of the line of soldiers. When he was close enough to see their faces clearly, he turned and rode fast along the length of the soldiers’ line, and they emptied their guns at him all along the way. At the end of the line, he wheeled the white pony and rode back along the soldiers’ front again.
“He made three, or perhaps four, rushes from one end of the line to the other,” said George Bent. “And then his pony was shot and fell under him. On seeing this, the warriors set up a yell and charged. They attacked the troops all along the line, but could not break through anywhere.” 10
Roman Nose had lost his horse, but his protective medicine saved his life. He also learned some things that day about fighting Bluecoats—and so did Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Dull Knife, and the other leaders. Bravery, numbers, massive charges—they all meant nothing if the warriors were armed only with bows, lances, clubs, and old trade guns of the fur-trapper days. (“We were now attacked from all sides, front, rear, and flanks,” Colonel Walker reported, “but the Indians seemed to have but few fire arms.” 11) The soldiers were armed with modern Civil War rifles, and had the support of howitzers.
For several days after the fight—which would be remembered by the Indians as Roman Nose’s fight—the Cheyennes and Sioux continued to harass and punish the soldiers. The Bluecoats were now barefoot and in rags, and had nothing left to eat but their bony horses, which they devoured raw because they were too pressed to build fires. At last in the Drying Grass Moon toward the end of September, Star Chief Connor’s returning column arrived to rescue Cole and Walker’s beaten soldiers. The soldiers all camped together around the stockade at Fort Connor on the Powder until messengers from Fort Laramie arrived with orders recalling the troops (except for two companies, which were to remain at Fort Connor).
The two companies which were ordered to stay through the winter at Fort Connor (soon to be renamed Fort Reno) were the Galvanized Yankees who had escorted Sawyers’ wagon trains west to the gold fields. General Connor left these former Confederate soldiers six howitzers to defend their stockade. Red Cloud and the other leaders studied the fort from a distance. They knew they had enough warriors to storm the stockade, but too many would die under the showers of shot hurled by the big guns. They finally agreed upon a crude strategy of keeping a constant watch on the fort and its supply trail from Fort Laramie. They would hold the soldiers prisoners in their fort all winter and cut off their supplies from Fort Laramie.
Before that winter ended, half the luckless Galvanized Yankees were dead or dying of scurvy, malnutrition, and pneumonia. From the boredom of confinement, many slipped away and deserted, taking their chances with the Indians outside.
As for the Indians, all except the small bands of warriors needed to watch the fort moved over to the Black Hills, where plentiful herds of antelope and buffalo kept them fat in their warm lodges. Through the long winter evenings the chiefs recounted the events of Star Chief Connor’s invasion. Because the Arapahos had been overconfident and careless, they had lost a village, several lives, and part of their rich pony herd. The other tribes had lost a few lives but no horses or lodges. They had captured many horses and mules carrying U.S. brands. They had taken many carbines, saddles, and other equipment from the soldiers. Above all, they had gained a new confidence in their ability to drive the Bluecoat soldiers from their country.
“If white men come into my country again, I will punish them again,” Red Cloud said, but he knew that unless he could somehow obtain many new guns like the ones they had captured from the soldiers, and plenty of ammunition for the guns, the Indians could not go on punishing the soldiers forever.