Symptoms of Disturbance
(Army & Navy Journal, March 4, 1876)
While Congress is debating the question of still further reducing our skeleton Army, the Indians of the North-West have risen to a question of order, and propose to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the country that the discussion of the Army as an obsolete institution is no longer permissible. Symptoms of a disturbance among the Sioux have been apparent for months. Large numbers of them have persistently refused to go to the agencies assigned them and have paid no attention to a notice served on them by the Interior Department, in December last, that they must locate on the reservations; if they did not wish to be considered as enemies and punished by the Army.
Meanwhile, preparations were being quietly made by the Army to meet the emergency which was seen to be approaching. Supplies were collected and wagon trains and pack mules provided ready for an expedition which is now so far progressed that secrecy as to its purposes is not longer necessary or possible. A dispatch, dated Fort Fetterman, March 1, says: "The Big Horn expedition leaves here today. It consists of ten companies of cavalry and two of infantry, under command of Colonel J.J. Reynolds, of the Third Cavalry. The transportation will be parked on Powder or Big Horn River, in charge of the infantry. The cavalry will then scour the hostile country east and north, striking prompt and decisive blows on the Indians wherever found. The severe weather now prevailing, while rough on the troops, will render it easier to find and punish effectually the tribes preparing for war. General Crook accompanies the expedition, and the total fighting strength of the column aggregates 700 men, with 40 days. supplies".
The regiments from which these troops are drawn are the Second and Third Cavalry and the Fourth Infantry, and our impression is that the force of cavalry will be found to be larger than is here stated. Another expedition is to set out from Fort A. Lincoln under the command of General Custer. This expedition consists of most of the Seventh Cavalry, of which Custer is Lieutenant-Colonel commanding and detachments of the Sixth, Seventeenth, and Twentieth Infantry, with a battery of Gatling guns, manned by a detachment from the Twentieth Infantry.
Sitting Bull and his numerous followers will be the objectives of both expeditions, though, from the nature of Indian warfare, the several columns will have to act independently, cooperating only so far as circumstance permit. Supplies are reported to be on their way by steamer up the Yellowstone, and a temporary base will be established somewhere in the vicinity of the mouth of the Big Horn River.
Four companies of the Second Cavalry and six companies of the Seventh Infantry, under the command, we presume, of General Gibbon, Colonel of the Seventy, will scout the west bank of the Yellowstone, to cut off retreat in that direction.
The campaign is the most important undertaken since the war, and the number of hostile Indians on the move is larger than any encountered within that period. The country between the Yellowstone and the Little Missouri Rivers, the Big Horn Mountains, and the line of the Northern Pacific Railroad will be the scene of the campaign.
Large wagon trains can be provided, and General Crooks's favorite ideal of pack mules will be tested. A N.Y. Tribune dispatch dated Cheyene, W.T., Feb. 24, says: "From Fort Fetternam the column will enter a territory which has not been traversed by troops since the return of those from the posts of RENO, KEARNY, and C.F. Smith, after the massacre in 1866, at which time this whose regions north of the North Platte, extending to the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, was abandoned by the Indians".
The Indians at Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Agencies have thus far refrained from openly joining their more hostile friends as a mass; nevertheless, many of the young men at both these places have gone North with this purpose. The Indians have shown unusual eagerness to procure arms and ammunition lately, and it has not been a difficult matter to accomplish this. The division of responsibility of the Government and management of the Indians, has resulted in the curious fact that one Department has supplied them with material with which to carry on a vigorous contest with another. Their arms in many cases are of the latest patterns, and nearly all are breech loaders.
The time has come, however, when the Government is obliged to act decisively. The tide of emigration, which is pouring into the gold fields of the Black Hills, and which will soon turn westward into those of the Big Horn country, renders it necessary that the vexed Indian question shall be disposed of without delay.
"It would be extremely difficult to give an accurate estimate of the number of Indians now off their reservations and roaming over the region which is to be traversed by the present expedition. Probably there are from 12,000 to 15,000 men, women, and children, and of this number not more than 3,000 warriors could probably be mustered. Pack mules will be the main reliance from Fort Fetterman, and they will be kept close to the cavalry. Indeed, whatever course the Indians adopt, they will find that they do deal with a very wily antagonist, who understands their character about as well as they do themselves, and whom they will find it very difficult to confuse and frighten. General Crook's plan is to do the fighting in detail, and not give the Indians now on reservations an opportunity of joining those who are not, and thus combining their forces. The troops detailed for these operations have seen a great deal of service, and are well accustomed to its hardships and dangers.
(Army & Navy Journal, March 4, 1876)
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