LITTLE POWDER RIVER
ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
During the time the negotiations with the Indians were going on, the troops were being prepared for a winter campaign. Provisions were made for special clothing for the troops to overcome the intense cold of this northern climate. The cavalrymen’s feet were protected by lamb’s wool socks over which were drawn heavy stockings extended to the knees. Indian moccasins of buckskin, and cork soles, being warmer and lighter, were generally worn. An outer boot of buffalo hide fastened by buckles, and extending the whole length of the leg, was placed over the moccasins. For underwear they used merino and perforated buckskin, and over this was placed a heavy blue flannel shirt, and then a blouse made of blanket or Norway kid. The overcoat was buffalo, bearskin, or beaver, and occasionally one of wool lined canvas. The head was protected by a cap of heavy cloth with fur border, constructed so as to protect the ears and face from the cold blasts. The hands were covered by woolen gloves and gauntlets of beaver or muskrat.
A winter campaign was being decided upon, General Crook, who commanded the Department of the Platte, was placed in command of the southern force, which assembled at Fort Fetterman. A column under General Terry was to ascend the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, but owing to the severe weather, this force never got started until May. General Crook’s force consisted of Companies A, B, E, I, and K, Second Cavalry, five companies of the Third Cavalry, two companies of the Fourth Infantry, a party of half-breed scouts, and a wagon and pack train. This force started March 1, following the old Bozeman Trail to Fort Reno.
The first night out of the post the Indians stampeded the herd of cattle, which headed back to the fort. From this time on the Indians constantly made themselves known by observation and harassing. Scouting parties were sent out under Frank Gruard to search for the camp of Crazy Horse. On March 7, General Crook decided to leave his wagon train behind and push on by night marches. After several days travel to the north the column finally came to the general vicinity of the Indian camp. On the evening of March 16, the scouts sighted two Indians from the hostile band. General Crook ordered the column to halt and bivouac as a ruse to make the hostiles believe he had no intention of following them. Colonel J. J. Reynolds, Third Cavalry, was ordered to take Companies A, B, E, I, and K, Second Cavalry, and four companies of the Third Cavalry and search for the Sioux camp in the direction the Indian hunters had gone. This force left the column at 5:00 p.m. and took up the trail in bitterly cold weather. The command marched all night over slippery and uneven ground, causing great strain upon the strength of the horses. At halts it was necessary for the officers to walk along the column shaking men in order to prevent them from trying to sleep, as it was feared they could not awaken again.
Gruard finally located the camp near the mouth of the Little Powder River, Montana, just before daylight, March 17, 1876, and after the force had made a march of about thirty-five miles. Although the command was on the bluffs above the Indian village, Colonel Reynolds made his plan of attack from there. One battalion was to attack the village at once and secure the pony herd, one was to follow up and destroy the village, and the other was to occupy the high ground to the left. In moving into their positions for attack, it was found that the ground was very rough and slippery. As this movement was so slow, it was nearly nine o’clock before the troops reached their places.
The leading companies in the attack were I and K, under Captains Noyes and Egan. Upon reaching the village in the valley they were discovered before the attack commenced. Company K charged mounted at once with pistols drawn, while Company I proceeded to round up the pony herd. Several of the horses were struck in Company K and one man killed and three wounded. As the supporting troops had not yet arrived, the Indians now made a counter-attack, forcing Company K to dismount and take up a position in a plum copse along the river. Meanwhile, Company I had secured the herd of about 700 horses.
The battalion which was to follow the first attack finally came up and took positions on the left of Company K. Part of it continued into the village and began its destruction. The third battalion had moved to the high ground but not to the exact spot where they were directed to go. As a consequence many of their shots landed among the friendly troops in the valley. After destroying large quantities of provisions in the village, Colonel Reynolds decided to withdraw in the afternoon.
Taking with them the Indian pony herd, the troops finally arrived at Lodge Pole creek after a march of about twenty miles. They were supposed to make a junction with General Crook at this place but he had not yet arrived. The men lay down to sleep in a worn-out condition after thirty-six hours of marching. The suffering was greater because there was no food for men or horses. During the night no guard was placed over the captured herd, and it was easy for the Sioux to slip into camp and drive it off. No attempt was made to follow them and recapture it on account of the exhausted condition of men and animals. General Crook arrived March 18, and decided, on account of the shortage of provisions and the condition of men and animals, to return to Fort Fetterman and prepare for another campaign.
Much criticism was brought upon Colonel Reynolds for not securing the provisions captured from the Indians and holding the village until the arrival of General Crook. It was said in his favor that he surprised the village and destroyed large quantities of supplies. In the fight on March 17, the command lost four men killed and five wounded, one of the latter being Lieutenant Rawolle, Company B, Second Cavalry.