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Old Fort Supply

Chapter II - The Washita Campaign

[Written by William Hankins Hughes, 1931 B. S., Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College, Stillwater, Oklahoma. Submitted to Department of History, Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College, Partial fulfillment of requirements for degree of Master of Arts, 1941.]

Chapter II - The Washita Campaign
Generals Sully and Custer put the post in readiness .. Custer ordered to pursue the Indians ... The Battle of the of the Washita ... Custer returns to Camp Supply ... The Nineteenth Kansas volunteer Cavalry rescued .. Generals Sheridan and Custer renew the pursuit of the Indians ... General Sheridan called to Washington ... General Custer completes the campaign.

May pages have been written relative to the Washita campaign which was conducted during the winter of 1868-69. General Sheridan, in his "Personal Memoirs," has given us a clear and concise account, yet a historical study of old Fort Supply would be incomplete without a chapter dedicated to this important movement.

As has been previously stated, Camp Supply was established as a base of supplies to support General Sheridan's forces in the field. General Sully and General Custer, with eleven troops of the United States Cavalry, had reached the site several days prior to the arrival of General Sheridan on the 21 st day of November.

The Nineteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Crawford, had not arrived as had been expected but General Sheridan had recognized a fresh Indian trail a short time before reaching Camp Supply and was of the opinion that it probably would lead them to the Indian villages. He, therefore, ordered Custer to pursue them with all haste.

A snowstorm had occurred the day of Sheridan's arrival which made Custer's pursuit quite difficult when he moved out on the 23rd yet they were able to locate the trail at points of high land where the wind had swept the snow away. With the aid of friendly Osage guides, Custer moved fast and on the 26th struck a fresh trail in the snow leading south. The column pushed on during the night of the 26th and shortly before daybreak of the 27th, came in sight of the Indian Village on the Washita River.

It was decided to attack from all four sides at the same moment. Sheridan describes the action in these words:

"As the first light grew visible in the east, each column moved closer into the village, and then, all dispositons having been made according to the prearranged plan, from their appointed places the entire force -- to the appointed notes of 'Garry Owen,' played by the regimental band as the signal for the attack -- dashed at a gallop into the village. The sleeping and unsuspecting savages were completely surprised by the onset; yet ... they seized their weapons ... and kept on fighting with every exhibition of desperation. In such a combat mounted men were useless, so Custer directed his troops to fight on foot, and by 9 o'clock the entire camp was in his possession and the victory complete. Black Kettle and over one hundred of his warriors were killed, and about fifty women and children captured."

Custer planned to keep the herd of ponies but after being surrounded most of the day by hostiles, he decided to kill all the ponies and return to Camp Supply under cover of darkness. The command arrived back at Camp Supply on the 30th, having lost nineteen men.

A very unfortunate occurrence of the affair was the disappearance of Major Elliott and fifteen men who became separated from the main command and were all killed about two miles south of the village.

General Sheridan immediately prepared to follow up this successful stroke against the Indians by following them deeper into this southwest territory. The Kansas volunteers had not yet arrived. Search parties located them in a bad plight in the rough breaks of the Cimarron probably near the present town of Freedom, Oklahoma. The snowstorm had prevented their further advance and over 700 of their horses had perished. The men had existed on buffalo meat and eventually were brought to Camp Supply without loss of life.

Due to this delay the start of the expedition was retarded until the 7th of December. General Sheridan described the force in teh following words:

"The column was made up of ten companies of the Kansas regiment, dismounted, eleven companies of the Seventh Cavalry, Pepoon's scouts, and the Osage scouts. In addition to Pepoon's men and the Osages, there was also 'California Joe,' and one or two other frontiersmen besides, to act as guides and interpreters. Of all these the prinicipal one, the one who best knew the country, was Ben Clark, a young man who had lived with the Cheyennes during much of his boyhood, and who not only had a pretty good knowledge of the country, but also spoke fluently the Cheyenne and Arapahoe dialects."

A headboard, which carries the date 1876, rests in the cemetery at the Western State Hospital and bears the name of Tachomeah, an Indian woman who was the wife of Ben Clark, the guide.

The new expedition followed General Custer's route to the site of the battleground on the Washita, located and buried the frozen and stripped bodies of Elliott's men. It is interesting to note that Louis McLane Hamilotn, a grandson of Alexander Hamilton was killed in the Battle of the Washita. Traveling down the Washita, the expedition came up to the Kowa camp. Satanta and Lone Wold promised to move to Fort Cobb. The Kiowas and Comanches came in and the Arapahoes under Yellow Bear. Only the Cheyennes now remained at large.

General Sheridan placed General Custer in command of the pursuit and returned to Camp Supply with the intention of joining General Custer later by a more direct route with an additional train of supplies. Upon his arrival at Camp Supply on the 2nd day of March, General Sheridan found orders awaiting him to return to Washington, however, the supply train was dispatched according to the prearranged agreement.

On the 2nd of March, the Nineteenth Kansas volunteers and the Seventh United States Cavalry under General Custer began their westward march across the North Fork of the Red River to the Salt Fork of the same stream. Here the command was divided, the majority being ordered to follow the Texas boundary northward to the Washita and there to go into camp.

The balance ascended the Salt Fork to its headwaters thence along the Llano Estacado. The rations were greatly reduced, mules died and the wagons were burned. On the 20th, they came upon a village of 250 Cheyennes Lodges on the Sweetwater. Following a parley, General Custer demanded the return of two captive white women and took six chiefs captive. He threatened to hang the chiefs if the women were not returned within twenty-four hours. The following afternoon, Mrs. Morgan and Miss White of Minneapolis, Kansas, were delivered to General Custer. The chiefs were held captive until later when the Cheyennes came in to the reservation. General Custer's command, now moved toward the rendevous on the Washita and from there returned to Camp Supply. here they enjoyed a short rest and quickly moved on to Fort Dodge.

The Cheyenne had promised to come into Camp Supply but it was later learned that they divided. About 250 went north and joined a band of Sioux on the Republican. The remainder of the Tribe under the head chief, Little Robe, remained in the Indian territory. These sent delegates to Camp Supply to talk of submission but finally Little Robe declared his intention of remaining at large.

The band that went north met an ill fate during the summer at the hands of General Carr in an engagement on the Republican. As soon as their brothers of the Indian territory learned of this, they submitted to the government. Their protection was assured by the Untited States Indian Commission, then at Camp Supply. With the exception of a small group that made their way north from Kansas and joined the Sioux, it was thought that the entire Cheyenne tribe was located near Camp Supply during the autumn and winter of 1869.

The Nineteenth Kansas Volunteers returned to Fort Hays where they were mustered out. Lieutenant-Colonel H. L. Moore reported that "the expedition resulted in forcing the Kiowas, Comanches, Cheyennes and Arapahoes onto their reservations."

Carl Coke Rister reported the results of the campaign in the following words:

"By the midsummer of 1869, Little robe's and Medicine Arrow's Cheyennes and Little Raven's and Yellow Bear's Araphahoes, had accepted their reservation, and soon thereafter their captured women and children were restored, as well as the hostage chiefs whom Custer had seized on the Sweetwater."

Wm. H. Hughes' List of Credits...

  1. Sheridan's Memoirs, p. 312.
  2. Loc. cit.
  3. Sheridan's Memoirs, p. 313.
  4. Ibid., p. 315.
  5. Ibid., p. 322.
  6. Ibid., p. 324.
  7. Clarence Wharton, Satanta, the Great Chief of the Kiowas and his people, p. 131.
  8. H. L. Moore, "The Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry, " Kansas State Historical Society, VI, p. 43.
  9. Sheridan's Memoirs, p. 344.
  10. Moore, op. cit., p. 43.
  11. Report of the Major-General Schofield, Department of Missouri, October 23, 1869, House Executive Document, I, p. 67.
  12. Moore, op. cit. p. 43
  13. Carl Coke Rister, Border Captives, p. 161.
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