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Bill Thayer

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Part 2

This webpage reproduces part of

Fort Laramie National Monument • Wyoming
National Park Service
Historical Handbook Series, No. 20
Washington, D. C., 1954

The text is in the public domain.

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Part 4
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Fort Laramie

 p14  The Civil War and the Uprising of the Plains Indians

The outbreak of the Civil War led to the reduction of garrisons at all outposts. This, coupled with a bloody uprising of the Sioux in Minnesota in 1862, inspired the Plains Indians, nursing many grievances, to go on the warpath. In the spring of 1862, many stage stations along the Platte route were raided and burned. To meet this threat, volunteer cavalry from Utah rushed east to the South Pass area, and the Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry under Col. Wm. O. Collins was ordered west to Fort Laramie. These raids also prompted the moving of the overland mail and stage route south to the Overland Trail and the establishment of Fort Halleck 120 miles to the southwest. During this period, troops at Fort Laramie continued to protect the vital telegraph line through South Pass and a still considerable volume of travelers, principally to Utah.

The next winter was fairly peaceful at Fort Laramie, and of social life at the post young Caspar Collins wrote to his mother: "They make the soldiers wear white gloves at this post, and they cut around very fashionably. A good many of the regulars are married and have their wives and families with them." He also indicated that they had a circulating library, a band, amateur theatricals, and an occasional ball. However, the dangers of the frontier were ever present, and, later that winter, troops en route from Fort Laramie to Fort Halleck encountered weather so severe that several of them were frozen to death.

Indians continued to steal horses from the overland mail stations, freighters, and ranchers; and incidents provoked by both whites and Indians piled up until the whole region was in a state of alarm. Efforts were made to call the Indians into the forts to treat for peace, but with little success.

At this time the difficulty of detecting the movements of Indian war parties was demonstrated at Fort Laramie. Returning from a 3‑day scout, without finding a sign of hostile Indians, a large detachment of troops unsaddled their horses and let them roll on the parade grounds. Suddenly, at midday, a daring party of 30 warriors dashed through the fort, drove the horses off to the north and escaped, with all but the poorest animals, despite a 48‑hour pursuit. The fort's commander, Major Wood, was described by his adjutant as "the maddest man I ever saw."

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Fort Laramie in 1863. Note "Old Bedlam" to the right of the flagpole. From a sketch in the University of Wyoming Archives by Bugler C. Moellman, 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.

 p15  Later in 1864, after another attempt to make peace with the northern Indians had failed, Gen. R. B. Mitchell ordered the strengthening of the defenses along the road to South Pass. Several former stage and pony express stations were strengthened and garrisoned. Fort Sedgwick, near Julesburg, and Fort Mitchell, at Scottsbluff, were among those established. Fort Laramie became headquarters of a district extending from South Pass east to Mud Springs Station. Meanwhile, Indian raids along the South Platte River virtually cut off Denver from the east for 6 weeks.

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Group on the porch of "Old Bedlam" in 1864. Courtesy Newberry Library.

Continuing efforts to seek peace with the Indians were made unsuccessful by the Sand Creek Massacre in November 1864, which united the southern bands of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe on the warpath. Early in January 1865, they raided Julesburg, sacking the station, carrying off great quantities of foodstuffs, and almost succeeding in destroying the garrison of Fort Sedgwick. Efforts to burn out the Indians by setting a 300‑mile-wide prairie fire brought them swarming back to the attack, destroying the South Platte road stations and miles of telegraph line, sacking and burning Julesburg a second time, and driving off great herds of livestock. While troops from Fort Laramie arrived at Mud Springs Station in time to fight off the Indians there, all efforts by troops from Fort Laramie and the east failed to prevent the Indians from escaping with their booty across the North Platte, near Ash Hollow.

Termination of the Civil War in April 1865 released many troops for service against the Indians, and plans were laid for extensive punitive expeditions, especially in the country to the north of the North Platte River.

 p16  In May, the fort's commander, Col. Thomas Moonlight, led 500 cavalry­men on a 450‑mile foray into the Wind River Valley, but failed to find the Indians. Meanwhile, there were several raids on stations westward to South Pass. An effort to remove a village of friendly Brules from Fort Laramie to Fort Kearny resulted in a fight at Horse Creek where Captain Fouts and four soldiers were killed as these Indians escaped to join the hostiles. In pursuing them, all of Colonel Moonlight's horses were stolen, and he returned to Fort Laramie in disgrace.

The major Indian raids of the summer centered on Platte Bridge Station, 130 miles above Fort Laramie, where late in July a large force of Indians wiped out a wagon train and killed 26 white men, including Lt. Caspar Collins who led a small party from the station in a valiant rescue effort.

In the meantime, a great campaign against the Indians, known as the Powder River Expedition, got under way with 2,500 men, directed by Gen. P. E. Connor. Of three columns planned to converge on the Indians in the Powder River country, the first, under Colonel Cole, started from Omaha, marched up the Loup River Valley, thence east of the Black Hills and on to the Powder River in Montana. The second, under Lieutenant Colonel Walker, left Fort Laramie, marched north along the west side of the Black Hills, and joined Colonel Cole's column as planned. The third, under General Connor, marched about 100 miles up the Platte from Fort Laramie, then north to the headwaters  p17 of Powder River where a small fort, Camp Connor, was established; thence, down the Powder River, where he destroyed the village and supplies of a large band of Arapahoes, but failed to meet the other two columns. The other commanders, lacking adequate supplies and proper knowledge of the country, lost most of their horses and mules in a September storm and, beset by fast-riding Indians, were forced to destroy the bulk of their heavy equipment. They were finally found and led to Camp Connor just in time to prevent heavy losses by starvation and possible destruction by Indians. The expedition straggled back to Fort Laramie, a failure.

Peace Talk and War on the Bozeman Trail, 1866‑68

Officials at Washington now decided to try peaceful measures with the Indians of the Fort Laramie region, and General Connor was succeeded in command by General Wheaton. Emissaries were sent to the tribes, inviting them to a general peace council at Fort Laramie in June 1866.

In March of that year, Col. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry Maynadier, then in command at Fort Laramie, reported, as auguring success of the peace council, that Spotted Tail, head chief of the Brule Sioux, had brought in the body of his daughter for burial among the whites at Fort Laramie. Her name was Ah‑ho‑ap‑pa, which is Sioux for wheat flour, although modern poets have referred to her as Fallen Leaf. In the summer of 1864, she was a familiar figure at Fort Laramie. While she haughtily refused the crackers, coffee, and bacon doled out to the Indian women and children at that time, she spent long hours on a bench by the sutler's store watching the white man's way of life. She was particularly fond of watching the guard mount and the dress parade, and the officer in charge was often especially decked out in sash and plumes for her benefit. She refused to marry one of her own people, attempted to learn English, and told her people they were fools for not living in houses and making peace with the whites. When the Sioux went on the warpath in 1864, Spotted Tail and his daughter were with them and spent the next year in the Powder River country. There the hard life weakened her, and she sickened and died during the following cold winter.

Having promised to carry out her express wish to be buried at Fort Laramie, her father led the funeral procession on a journey of 260 miles. Colonel Maynadier responded gallantly to Spotted Tail's request. In a ceremony which combined all the pageantry of the military and the primitive tradition of the Sioux, her body was placed in a coffin on a raised platform a half mile north of the parade grounds. Thus, a long step had been taken toward winning the friendship of a great chief.​a

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The grave of Spotted Tail's daughter near Fort Laramie, about 1881. Courtesy Wyoming Historical Department.

 p18  By June, a good representation of Brule and Oglala Sioux being present, the commissioners set about negotiating a treaty. In the meantime, unfortunately, the War Department sent out an expedition instructed to open the Bozeman Trail through the Powder River country to the Montana gold mines. Colonel Carrington and his troops arrived at Fort Laramie in the midst of the negotiations and caused serious unrest among the Indians. One chief commented, "Great Father send us presents and wants new road, but white chief goes with  p19 soldiers to steal road before Indian say yes or no," and a large faction, led by Red Cloud and Man-Afraid‑of-His‑Horses, withdrew in open opposition to all peace talk. Nevertheless, the remaining Indians agreed to a treaty which provided for the opening of the Bozeman Trail.

In late June the troops under Colonel Carrington marched up the trail, garrisoned Camp Connor (later moved and named Fort Reno), and began building Fort Phil Kearny at the foot of the Bighorn Mountain and Fort C. F. Smith farther north in Montana. Immediately, it became evident that the peace treaty was meaningless. Fort Phil Kearny was the scene of almost daily Indian attacks on traders, wagon trains, wood-cutting parties, and troops. These attacks were climaxed on December 21 when Capt. William Fetterman and 80 men were led into an ambush and annihilated by Indians led by Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. The fort and its remaining garrison were in danger of being overwhelmed, and the nearest aid lay at Fort Laramie, 236 miles away. At midnight, John "Portugee" Phillips, trader and scout, slipped out into a blizzard on the colonel's favorite horse and in 4 days made his way across the storm-swept, Indian-infested plains to Fort Laramie in one of the truly heroic rides of American history. While his gallant mount lay dying on the parade ground, Phillips interrupted a gay Christmas night party in "Old Bedlam" to deliver his message, and a relief expedition was soon on its way.

The severe weather made an attempted winter campaign against the Indians unsuccessful, and there was no important fighting until summer. On August 2, 1867, the Indians again attacked a woodcutting party near Fort Phil Kearny, but the small detachment led by Captain Powell was armed with the new 1866 Springfield breech-loading rifles and fought off repeated charges by the Indians in the famous Wagon Box Fight.

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Fort Laramie in 1867. From a sketch by Anton Schoenborn.

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Fort Laramie: General Plan in 1867. From an old map.

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 p21  The Treaty of 1868

Again, the peace advocates in Washington were in the ascendancy, and in the summer of 1867 the Congress provided a commission to treat with the Indians, but authorized recruiting an army of 4,000 men if peace was not attained. Treaties with the southern tribes were concluded at Fort Larned in October, and the commissioners came to Fort Laramie in November to treat with the northern tribes. However, few came in and the hostiles, led by Red Cloud, sent word that no treaty was possible until the forts on the Bozeman Trail and in the valley of the Powder River were abandoned to the Indians. They did agree to cease hostilities and to come to Fort Laramie the next spring. In April 1868, the commissioners came again to Fort Laramie and were prepared to grant the Indians' demands, including abandonment of the Bozeman Trail. By late May, both the Brule and Oglala Sioux had signed the treaty, but Red Cloud refused to sign until the troops had left the Powder River country and his warriors had burned the abandoned Fort Phil Kearny to the ground.

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The Peace Commissioners in council with Indians at Fort Laramie in 1868. From a photograph by Alexander Gardner in the Newberry Library.

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Dress parade at Fort Laramie in 1868. Note "Old Bedlam" at the extreme right. From a photograph by Alexander Gardner in the Newberry Library.

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This treaty gave the Indians all of what is now South Dakota west of  p22 the Missouri River as a reservation. It also gave them control and hunting rights in the great territory north of the North Platte River and east of the Bighorn Mountains as unceded Indian lands. The Indian agencies were to be built on the Missouri River. Many of the Indians, however, objected to giving up trading at Fort Laramie as had been their custom, and, in 1870, a temporary agency for Red Cloud's band was established on the North Platte River 30 miles below the fort, at the present Nebraska-Wyoming line. Finally, in 1873, after he and other chiefs had twice been taken to Washington and New York to view the numbers and power of the white man, Red Cloud agreed to  p23 having his agency moved north to a site on White River away from Fort Laramie and the Platte Road.

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Indians at the North Platte Ferry in 1868. From a photograph by Alexander Gardner in the Newberry Library.

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Indians and whites at Fort Laramie in 1868. From a photograph by Alexander Gardner in the Newberry Library.

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Fort Laramie in 1868. U. S. Geological Survey photograph by William H. Jackson.

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In the meantime, peace prevailed on the high plains, and, in 1872, it was reported that not a white man was killed in the department of the Platte.

Later in 1873, however, the attitude of many Indians toward their agents at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies became so hostile that the agents requested that troops be stationed at the agencies. Although the Indians protested this as a violation of their treaty rights, Camp Robinson and Camp Sheridan were established at these respective  p24 agencies in 1874. At the same time, funds were obtained for an iron bridge over the North Platte at Fort Laramie. Its completion, early in 1876, gave the troops there ready access to the Indian country.

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Fort Laramie in 1876. Courtesy D. S. Mitchell.

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Thayer's Note:

a Here is another version of the story, as printed — with nary a change except for minor differences of capitalization — in various newspapers of 1879 (among them the Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, Oct. 1; Buffalo Evening Courier and Republic, Oct. 7; Iola Register, Oct. 17; the St. Francisville Feliciana Sentinel, Oct. 25):

An Indian Girl's Love

The Rev. Alexander Wright, a chaplain of the United States Army, narrates a true but tristful romance of the late Princess Monica, a daughter of Spotted Tail. This narrative is the most interesting in that it explains the uniformly peaceful attitude of the chief towards the whites. A short time ago Monica visited Laramie to look upon the palefaces and their manner of living. She was shown around by a handsome young lieutenant of a cavalry regiment, and in thanking him for his courtesy, she acknowledged, with charming naivete, that she loved him. The surprised and flattered officer told her that she must not love him, as his heart was placed among the pale-face girls in an Ohio town. Monica visited the fort on the day following that on which she lost her freedom, and so on for many weeks, in plain, neat attire, the poor girl sat throughout the afternoon on the doorsteps of the officer's quarters. The great Sioux chief, whose warriors outnumbered those of Sitting Bull, was mortified at the conduct of his best beloved daughter, and sent her away to a little camp in the Rocky Mountains. One day a courier arrived at the chief's camp with the tidings that Monica was dying. Spotted Tail rode with all haste to her side and heard her farewell injunction: "My Chief, live with the pale-face in peace, and bury Monica on the hill before the fort." Gen. Maynadier, commander at the post, Col. Bullock, the post-trader, and Chaplain Wright, gave the body a Christian burial. The grave is now a point of interest to travelers as Fort Laramie is approached on the Cheyenne road. Gen. Maynadier testifies as to the truthfulness of the girl's death from a broken heart, and to the effect it had upon the Sioux.

As the reader will have seen from Gen. Maynadier's career summary linked above, he commanded Fort Laramie very briefly, presumably as the ranking officer on the spot during his passage thru the area on the Idaho expedition. His proper rank at the time was Colonel; "General" was a brevet rank. That same career summary states that his highest brevet was "for Distinguished Services on the Frontier while Operating against Hostile Indians, and accomplishing much toward Bringing about a Peace with late Hostile Tribes."

I wonder just how Christian the last rites of Ah‑ho‑ap‑pa were. The gate-like structure is a typical Sioux scaffold on which the body of the dead is exposed to the birds and the elements, much as in Zoroastrian practice, although here we have a coffin.

Why the story hit the newspapers only in 1879, fifteen years after the fact, must be a matter of conjecture, although it is in consoling contrast to the 1876 massacre of American soldiers by Sitting Bull. The man who is said here to vouch for it, Gen. Maynadier, had died in 1868.

Finally (assuming the tale to be true), whoever the lieutenant was, he was not a West Pointer: no Academy graduate was posted there in the winter up to March 1866 the date of Monica's death.

He has been identified by some as one "Levi Rienhart (Reinhart?), of the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, who died in an Indian fight west of Fort Laramie on February 13, 1865", the date of an Indian fight at Laparelle Creek by the 11th Cavalry — which, however, was only raised in 1861; and no officer by that name is listed in Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army.

Others have identified him as "a military courier named Thomas Dorion", who must be one of the descendants of Pierre Dorion the well-known guide, one of whose sons (born in 1787 so very likely out of contention for the affections of a young squaw in 1846) was named Thomas. But I haven't found him at Fort Laramie in the latter year although Paul Dorion was there, where Parkman met him (DeVoto, The Year of Decision: 1846, p174).

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