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The squadron moved out promptly at midnight. When I was bidding Colonel Drum good-bye he said to me: "Captain, after you leave here use your own discretion. You know the object of the movement; do your best to make it a success."
The command consisted of troop "F," Eighth Cavalry, Lieutenants S. L. H. Slocum and M. F. Steele and forty-eight enlisted men; troop “G,” Eighth Cavalry, Captain E. G. Fechet, Lieutenants E. H. Crowder and E. C. Brooks and fifty-one enlisted men; Captain A. R. Chapin, medical officer, and Hospital Steward August Nickel, two Indian scouts, Smell-the-Bear and Iron-Dog, Louis Primeau, guide and interpreter. The artillery, consisting of one Gatling gun with “G” troop, and one Hotchkiss breachloading steel rifle, with “F” troop, was under the immediate command of Lieutenant Brooks. Transportation, one four-horse spring wagon and one Red Cross ambulance.
For the first four miles the squadron moved at a quick walk. A halt was then made and the men were then told to fix their saddles and arms securely, as I intended to make a rapid ride to Oak Creek.
The ride to Oak Creek was taken at a brisk trot. Two or three short halts were made in order to tighten girths and to change the troop leading the column. On reaching the creek, at about 4:30 A. M., I was greatly surprised and concerned to find that the scout whom Bull Head had been directed to send to meet me at that point had not arrived. Although bewildered by this event, I realized that there was but one thing to be done, to push my command to Grand River as rapidly as possible and act according to the situation found. The gallop was the gait from this time on. I was pushing the animals, but still not too fast to impair pursuit beyond Grand River should I find that Sitting Bull had escaped.
Just in the gray of the dawn a mounted man was discovered approaching rapidly. He proved to be one of the police, who reported that all the other police had been killed. I forwarded to Colonel Drum the substance of his report, with the additional statement that I would move in rapidly and endeavor to relieve
any of the police who might be alive. This courier (Hawkman), by the way, was mounted on the famous white horse given to Sitting Bull by Buffalo Bill.
The men at once prepared for action by removing and stowing away their overcoats and fur gloves. While they were doing this I rode along the line, taking a good look at each man. Their bearing was such as to inspire me with the fullest confidence that they would do their duty. The squadron was advancing in two columns, the artillery between the heads, ready for deployment. The line had just commenced the forward movement when another of the police came in and reported that Sitting Bull's people had a number of the police penned up in his house; that they were nearly out of ammunition and could not hold out much longer. At this time we could hear some firing. In a few minutes we were in position on the highlands overlooking the valley of Grand River, with Sitting Bull's house, surrounded by the camp of the ghost-dancers, immediately in front and some twelve hundred yards distant. The firing continued and seemed to be from three different and widely separated points--from the house, from a clump of timber beyond the house, and from a party, apparently forty or fifty, on our right front and some eight or nine hundred yards away.
At first there was nothing to indicate the position of the police. Our approach had apparently not been noticed by either party, so intent were they on the business on hand. The prearranged signal (a white flag) was displayed, but was not answered. I then ordered Brooks to drop a shell between the house and the clump of timber just beyond. It may be as well to 'state here that the Hotchkiss gun would not have been up on the line at this time but for the courage and presence of mind of Hospital Steward Nickel. In going into position over some very rough ground the gun was overturned and the harness broken, so that the animal drawing it became detached. Steward Nickel, a man of exceptional physical strength, coming up with the Red Cross ambulance, seeing the plight the gun was in, seated himself on the bottom of the ambulance, bracing his feet
against the tail gate, took a good grip with his hands on the shafts, told his driver to go ahead, and in this way dragged the gun up to the line.
The shell from the gun had the desired effect and a white flag was seen displayed from the house. Slocum and Steele, with their men dismounted, advanced directly on the house. Crowder, with “G” troop, was ordered to move along the crest and protect the right flank of the dismounted line. Brooks threw a few shells into the timber, also against the party which had been on our right front, but was now moving rapidly into the valley. As Slocum’s line approached the house the police came out and joined it. The line was pushed into the timber, dislodging the few hostiles who remained. I now caused the dismounted line to fall back to the vicinity of the house, pickets being left at the farthest point gained by the advance. All the hostiles having disappeared, Crowder was recalled.
I had moved with the dismounted line and in passing the house had noticed Sitting Bull's body lying on the ground. On returning, when the advance fell back, I saw the evidences of a most desperate encounter. In front of the house, and within a radius of fifty yards, were the bodies of eight dead Indians, including that of Sitting Bull, and two dead horses. In the house were four dead policemen 3nd three wounded, two mortally. To add to the horror of the scene the squaws of Sitting Bull, who were in a small house near by, kept up a great wailing. I at once began to investigate the causes which brought about the tragedy. The inquiry showed that the police entered the house about 5:50 A, M. and arrested Sitting Bull. He occupied considerable time in dressing and at first accepted his arrest quietly; but while he was dressing his son, Crowfoot, commenced upbraiding him for going with the police. On this Sitting Bull became obstinate and refused to go. After some parleying the police removed him from the house and found themselves and prisoner in the midst of the whole crowd of ghost dancers, frenzied with rage. As to the occurrences outside the house, I will again quote from Major McLaughlin's
letter, the details of which are more complete than my notes and were distinctly corroborated by investigations on the spot made within three hours after the fight:
"The policemen reasoned with the crowd, gradually forcing them back, thus increasing the circle considerably; but Sitting Bull kept calling upon his followers to rescue him from the police; that if the two principal men, Bull Head and Shave Head, were killed the others would run away; and he finally called out to them to commence the attack, whereupon Catchthe Bear and Strike-the-Kettle, two of Sitting Bull's men, dashed through the crowd and fired. Lieutenant Bull Head was standing on one side of Sitting Bull and Sergeant Sha Head on the other, with Sergeant Red Tomahawk behind, to prevent his escaping. Catch-the-Bear's shot struck Bull Head on the right side and he instantly wheeled and shot Sitting Bull, hitting him in the left side, between the tenth and eleventh ribs, and Strike-the-Kettle's shot having passed through Shave Head's abdomen, all three fell together. Catch-the-Bear, who fired the first shot, was immediately shot down by Private Lone Man."
The fight now became general. The police, gaining possession of the house and stables, drove the ghost-dancers to cover in the timber near by. From these positions the fight was kept up until the arrival of my command.
While I was engaged in the investigation breakfast had been prepared for the men and grain given to the horses. Going to the cook-fire for a cup of coffee, which I had just raised to my lips, I was startled by the exclamations of the police, and on looking up the road to where they pointed saw one of the ghostdancers in full war array, including the ghost-shirt, on his horse, not to exceed eighty yards away. In a flash the police opened fire on him; at this he turned his horse and in an instant was out of sight in the willows. Coming into view again some four hundred yards further on, another volley was sent after him. Still further on he passed between two of my picket posts, both of which fired on him. From all this fire he escaped unharmed, only to fall at Wounded Knee two weeks afterward.
It was ascertained that this Indian had deliberately ridden up to our line to draw the fire, to test the invulnerability of the ghost-shirt, as he had been told by Sitting Bull that the ghostshirt worn, in battle, would be a perfect shield against the bul. lets of the white man. He, with some others of the most fanatical of the party, fled south, joining Big Foot's band.
He was one of the most impetuous of those urging that chief not to surrender to Colonel Sumner, but to go south and unite with the Indians in the Bad Lands, backing up his arguments by the story of the trial of his shirt. Who can tell but that the sanguinary conflict at Wounded Knee, December 28, would have been averted if the Indian police had been better marksmen and had brought down that daring Indian; and that Captain Wallace and his gallant comrades of the Seventh Cavalry, who gave up their lives that day, would be still among us?
The excitement over the bold act of the ghost-dancer had hardly died away when another commotion was raised by the discovery of two young boys concealed in the house where the squaws were. They were found under a pile of buffalo robes and blankets, on which several squaws were seated. These boys were taken to the agency and turned over to Major McLaughlin, not murdered before the eyes of the women, as one newspaper account stated.
About 1 P. M. the squadron commenced the return march. Before leaving, the bodies of the hostiles were laid away in one of the houses and the squaws of Sitting Bull released, they having been under guard during our stay. Well knowing that they would communicate with their friends on the withdrawal of the troops, I sent a message to the hostiles to the effect that if they would return and stay peaceably in their homes they would not be molested.
The dead and wounded Indian police and the remains of Sitting Bull were taken with the command to the post. On arriving at Oak creek, about 5 P. M., a courier was met with a message from Colonel Drum to the effect that he would join me some time in the night with the infantry. About midnight Colonel