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Kansas Historical Quarterly - The West Breaks in General Custer

by Minnie Dubbs Milbrook

Summer 1970 (Vol. 36, No. 2), pages 113 to 148
Transcribed by Ron Griffin; HTML editing by Tod Roberts;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets are links to endnotes for this text.

ACCORDING to legend Gen. George Armstrong Custer took to the West as a seal to the sea, glorying in its hardships and its dangers. Mrs. Custer would write reminiscently, "General Custer was such an enthusiast over our glorious West. . . ." [1] Actually this enthusiasm took some time to develop. From all indications the first year of Custer's service in Kansas and Nebraska was not a happy one and the young general had no liking for the country or the army service in it.

The adjustment from the lofty realm of major general down to lieutenant colonel in a regiment was no doubt difficult. Custer's extraordinary success in the Civil War [2] had enabled him to skip the arduous years of training by which a young lieutenant usually came up through officer ranks. Thus he had little experience in the close, direct command of men. He had not had an independent command; his orders came down to him from above and he handed them on to the regimental officers below. His willingness to fight, his brilliance in leading men in battle and his quick eye in selecting strategic points of attack earned him much praise, quick promotion, and generous leaves of absence. He had enjoyed all the perquisites of a general's headquarters, first as an aide and then as a general himself. The Army of the Potomac was the best-supplied, best-equipped army in the world and it operated so near to the capital city that its officers were often a part of the social scene in Washington. Custer's wife was with him when there was no other woman in camp. The newspapers were full of his exploits and crowds cheered at the sight of him.

After the war, followed by a year of leave and service in Louisiana and Texas, Custer was sent to the "American Siberia"- That vast, empty Plains region where there were no crowds and no one remembered his glory. There was not even any comfort. The weather was harsh and unpredictable; there was little water to drink, no trees to shelter a soldier from the pitiless sun or the driving rain. The food was bad and insufficient and inevitably on the march the officer was reduced to the trooper's monotonous ration. Even the enemy -- the scruffy, slippery Indian -- was an unworthy and inglorious foe. For Custer the summer of 1867 was a season of dispirit, privation, and indignity.

The year had opened rather auspiciously for the United States army in Kansas. The volunteer soldiers of the Civil Was had all been mustered out and the regular army would take over its old task of policing the trails, protecting the settlers, and punishing the Indians if necessary. It would have an extra duty that year for a railroad -- the union Pacific, Eastern division -- was building up the Smoky Hill river valley and the surveyors and tracklayers would have to be guarded against Indian attack. Several new cavalry regiments had been allowed by congress and one of them, the U.S. Seventh, had been trained at Fort Riley and was ready for duty. Three well-known generals would direct and command operations. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock [3] commanded the Department of the Missouri [4] which included the states of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Indian territory. Gen. Andrew J. Smith, [5] colonel of the Seventh cavalry, would also direct the District of the Upper Arkansas, [6] with the Santa Fe and Smoky hill trails his special concern. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, Lieutenant Colonel of the Seventh, would lead the cavalry striking force that would pursue the Indians into their fastnesses and smite them in their camps if necessary.

Gen. William T. Sherman, commanding the Division of the Missouri, [7] was anxious for the army in Kansas to get out into the Indian country early. It had been a bad, snowy winter and the wet inclement weather continued on into the spring. Early in March it was evident that the expedition to the west under General Hancock, planned to impress the Plains tribes, would be unable to start as scheduled. From fort Riley General Smith wrote Hancock at Fort Leavenworth:

The Republican [river] is booming and full of ice. . . a pontoon bridge could not live an hour. . . . Old Moses himself could not stay the coming flood or assure us passage dry shod between us and Harker. There are trains between here and Harker that have been waterbound for one month. . . . The present state of affairs is unusual and occurs but once in many years. I remember seeing it in 1844. [8]

The quartermaster at Fort Riley, Cpt. George W. Bradley, wrote to his superior on March 3, reporting what such weather meant to his operation:

I have worked day and night to get the stores forward. I have built four different bridges across the Republican at this point. Two have been sunk and two destroyed by ice. I have a ferry in operation here which can transport one team at a time. it was stopped by the ice. The commissary and ordnance stores for Fort Harker, Hays, Larned and Dodge are all water bound between this place and the Solomon River. [9]

The fact of this unusual wet, miserable weather which continued right down to July, needs to be taken into consideration in any account of the summer because it mad the supply problem of the army very difficult, almost impossible at times. As the railroad along the Smoky Hill advanced, it helped, but in June, though the railroad had reached beyond Salina, there were no trains for 11 days due to the washing out of bridges and tracks. [10] The long overland supply trains, oxen or mule drawn, were stuck again for days in the bottomless mud.

The expedition to the west got off on March 26. It was made up of six companies of the Seventh cavalry, seven companies of the 37th infantry and a battery of the Fourth artillery, aggregating eventually 1,400 soldiers. [11] Hancock, Smith, and Custer were along. Altogether it was quite an impressive army and the Western newspapers spoke of it as "the grand advance" or the "expedition de Hancock." [12] Hancock hoped the Indians, too, would be impressed. In martial array the cortege proceeded to Fort Lamed where the Cheyennes had been asked to meet the general. [13] The railroad was to be built through Cheyenne country and the attitude of the Indians had been a matter of comment and conjecture throughout the winter.

At Fort Larned the troops endured an eight-inch snowstorm on April 9 and cold so severe that Custer considered taking his mare, Fanchon, into his tent for shelter. The storm delayed the Indians, adding to the tensions and misunderstandings of the meeting. Dissatisfied because so few of the chiefs had come and because of their stolid lack of response, Hancock decided to go on out to the Indian village on Pawnee fork so that all the people might see his mighty army and be deterred from any overt actions later. He found a large encampment of both Sioux and Cheyennes. [14] As he approached the village the frightened people ran away and on their flight to and across the Smoky Hill, killed three station keepers on the trail as they passed.

Custer, sent with the cavalry to bring them back, failed to come up with even one Indian but was treated instead to a magnificent demonstration of the way the Indian, even on his winter-weakened ponies, burdened with his women and children, could evade the U. S. cavalry. Following the Indian sign, Custer marched obliquely northwest towards the Smoky Hill river, and came around eventually to discover the burned and mutilated bodies of the station men slightly northeast of the camp on the Pawnee from which the Indians had fled. [15] When Hancock heard of the atrocity, he burned the village the Indians had forsaken. Thus the season began.

Custer, his horses worn out by his fast scout -- 150 miles in four and a half days -- came into Fort Hays to find no forage for his horses and sat down to wait for it. Hancock and Smith went on to Fort Dodge to talk to chiefs of other tribes and inspect the condition of the post. To his embarrassment Hancock also ran short of forage. The weather had continued adverse and at Dodge on April 22 more snow had fallen. One of the frontier newspapers that had been observing with interest the meeting of the ponderous army with the nimble Indian, reported, "His [Hancock's] mules are in very precarious circumstances . . . his hay exhausted, and a courier was dispatched to Fort Harker for a supply. He has with him about seventeen hundred mules." [16] Always sensitive to public criticism, Hancock wrote to General Sherman:

I have seen some notices in the newspapers, stating that the expedition has been detained for want of forage, and that our animals are suffering, etc. There is not a word of truth in such statements. . . . The hay contractors failed almost entirely, owing to high water, bad roads, etc., and we have consequently only had hay sufficient for the animals during the most inclement weather. . . . The only serious trouble we have met in respect to forage was that when General Custer arrived at Fort hays from Pawnee Fork he found there was only a sufficient supply for his command for one or two days, and was unfortunately delayed on that account.

This shortage of supplies troubled Hancock greatly for he was a careful planner, a master of army red tape as well as a master of army supply. Before the Civil War he had been a quartermaster in the Western districts and during the war the Second Corps, which lie commanded, was known as the best-organized, best-supplied corps in the Army of the Potomac. The expedition had accomplished little. Perhaps for the lack of a little hay an opportunity had been lost. Had Custer been able to follow and catch the Indians and bring them back this ambiguous condition of neither war nor peace would not have existed.

In their swing around to talk to Indians as well as to arrange for the rebuilding of the Western posts, Smith and Hancock arrived at Fort Hays on May 3. Though by that time Hancock well knew that Custer had not been able to go on north after the Indians, he asked for a written report of the matter. The methodical general liked to have everything written down. Custer's report of May 4 shows a tinge of resentment:

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of this date, calling upon me for my "reasons in detail for not making any movement" with my command since my arrival at this point. In reply, I would state that I reached this post on the 19th ultimo, expecting to find forage and subsistence stores for my command. Upon the contrary, no provision had been made for its supply. . . . [18]

A full supply was not forthcoming until April 27. By that time his horses were out of condition, having subsisted for some days upon "dry prairie grass." Also "subsistence stores expected daily at this post have been small and insufficient, but about two days supply being on hand." [19] Though as soon as the shortages were known the orders had gone out that all supply trains, even those bound for Santa Fe, should be rerouted to Custer at Hays, it took some time for the deficiencies to be made up. Custer never forgave what he called the "neglect" of the quartermaster's department and some years later excoriated it thus: "Dishonest contractors at the receiving depots further east had been permitted to perpetrate gross frauds upon the Government, the result of which was to produce want and suffering among the men. [20]

Mrs. Custer would further charge in her memoirs that the rations were inferior in quality and that the subsistence supplies had been sent out to the frontier posts during the Civil War, had lain in poorly constructed storehouses and then, moldy and spoiled, were issued to the men throughout 1867. [21]

Custer's own report of May 4 refutes this statement. There was no backlog of bacon and hardtack molding in the storehouse at Fort Hays, since "but about two days supply" was on hand. In some measure this condition existed at all the outlying forts throughout the summer. They never had any great accumulation of subsistence stores and reported frequently how many days' supply was on hand. But no one actually ran out, nor did any report that the rations were old and unfit for consumption.

There was, however, a shortage of fine stores for officers. For the first time, as an experiment, in 1867 the quartermaster's department proposed to send and keep at each post a supply of canned goods, hams, etc., for purchase by officers and their families. Heretofore officers had had to provide their own food, either taking a supply along to their stations or buying it from the high-priced sutler's store. Unfortunately the new system did not work very well under the exigencies of 1867 transportation and the officers were thrown back onto the monotonous hard bread, bacon, and beans of the trooper. On May 4 there were no fine stores at Fort Hays and Hancock ordered some sent at once.

It should be remembered that when Custer made his complaints about the provisioning of the troops he was accounting for the many desertions from his regiment, 90 altogether while he was at Hays. Besides the rations he noted that there was cholera about and scurvy in the ranks. There was no cholera in Kansas in April and May -- it would come later -- but there were 13 cases of scurvy, a condition that is not caused by bad bread and does not develop in a month. It could have been prevented by a more diversified diet through the winter at Fort Riley. On May 4 Hancock ordered antiscorbutics -- potatoes and onions -- sent out at once.

Whatever the cause of the desertions, the cavalry camp near Fort flays was certainly grim and miserable. The post possessed only a few small shacks, inadequate even for the shelter of the men stationed there. [22] The weather was cold and Custer's regiment lived in tents pitched on soggy ground that never dried out. A rainstorm, "which promised permanence," had set in "to make the mud more bottomless than that which the army of the Potomac wallowed through during the Burnside mud march at Fredericksburg." Theodore R. Davis, a reporter with the regiment, spoke of the Custer moodiness and "sombre mien following the enforced anchorage of his command in the muddy camp at Big Creek." As Davis sat whistling in his little A tent while he sketched by the light of a candle, Custer burst in with the demand, "Stop this cheerfulness in purgatory or I'll have you out here in the flood walking post." [23]

Custer's boredom and depression was expressed in his letters to his wife. "The inaction to which I am subjected now, in our present halt, is almost unendurable. It requires all the buoyancy of my sanguine disposition to resist being extremely homesick." [24] He wanted nothing so much as to get an appointment to Fort Garland out in the mountains of Colorado where the hunting and weather would be better and he could have his wife with him. [25] As always when the young general was sick or depressed he turned to his wife for comfort and renewed assurance.

Custer had also lost any interest he might have had in Indian fighting. The fiercest Indians of the Plains had not impressed him as a foe -- they were timid and had run away. He had written to his superiors stating that the redskins were frightened and peaceful and he could see no reason for any war. [26] He reassured his wife as to the danger, "The chances are, however, that I shall not see any of them, it being next to impossible to overtake them when they are forewarned and expecting us, as they now are." [27] He would more or less act on this belief the rest of the summer.

When the weather permitted Davis took Custer out for a buffalo hunt. He suggested a contest between two teams of officers to see which could kill the most buffalo in one day. All the fresh meat thus obtained must have been a welcome addition to the trooper's diet. Foot races were organized for the men. A courier system was set up to bring the mail from Fort Harker more expeditiously than it came by stage. Hancock agreed that Mrs. Custer might come to Hays and General Smith insisted that the tent carried by General Hancock on the expedition should be allotted to her use. The Seventh cavalry band was sent out from Riley by General Gibbs. [28] Everyone did his best to allay the Custer malaise.

Although the Cheyennes signified their hostile intent by killing a few settlers in Kansas in May they concentrated more on harassing the stage line and railroad workers along the Platte river. Sherman recast his plans for the summer. Though certain of the so-called friendly bands of Sioux had been granted permission to hunt between the Platte and the Smoky Hill, word was sent to them to come in to the forts along the Platte or return north of the river to avoid involvement in the war that seemed imminent. Custer would be sent to patrol the area. [29] He would be ideal for the assignment -- aggressive, "willing to act and fight." [30] Sherman wanted a man who would go after the Indians, not stand back and wait for them to come to him. On May 13 Gen. C. C. Augur, commanding on the Platte wrote: "All the friendly bands have left the Republican and gone north of the Platte. They report two hundred fifty lodges of Cheyennes, and sixty lodges of Sioux, on Turkey Creek, a tributary of the Republican, about eighty miles south of Fort McPherson." [31]

On the 15th Hancock wrote to Smith about the proposed patrol. Subsistence supplies had been placed at all points in case Custer might need them. "I do not know how long the cavalry will be absent. It does not much matter, they can go leisurely, unless they meet trails of Indians when they should pursue. When they come back they can rest at Hays. The commander should report progress frequently by telegraph or otherwise. Send the odometer." [32]

But when days went past and Custer still did not move Hancock became impatient. Smith explained that Custer was waiting for shelter tents which were absolutely necessary. They had had extremely cold weather in the West and "some of the most terrific storms I have ever witnessed on the plains." [33] Smith also sent a special courier down to Harker for officers' stores for Custer since Hancock's order for them had not been filled. [34] Finally on June 1 when the grass was up and Custer was prepared to his own satisfaction he left Fort hays with six cavalry troops and 20 supply wagons for Fort McPherson on the Platte. His orders of May 31 stated: r faction he left Fort Hays with six cavalry troops aiid 20 supply

The object of the expedition is to hunt out and chastise the Cheyennes and that portion of the Sioux who are their allies, between the Smoky Hill and the Platte. It is reported that all friendly Sioux have gone north of the Platte and may be in the vicinity of Forts McPherson or Sedgwick. You will as soon as possible, inform yourself as to the whereabouts of these friendly bands and avoid a collision with them. [35]

Sherman in Nebraska wrote hopefully to Gov. Alexander C. Hunt of Colorado, who was worried for fear the Indian attacks might close the trail to Denver: "It is barely possible the Cheyenne camp, stampeded by Hancock on Pawnee fork is now on the Republican, south of this. General Custer may strike them in coming across. . . . [36]

The Seventh cavalry column arrived at Fort McPherson on June 10 having marched 229 miles in 10 days, an average of 23 miles a day, [39] despite the delays of Indian trails, a heavy rain storm and the necessity of corduroying some creek banks and cutting down ridges to get the wagons over. Unluckily no Indian camps had been discovered.

Shortly after he reached the Platte Custer held a pow-wow with Pawnee Killer, one of the Sioux chiefs, who had been camped with his band alongside the Cheyennes on Pawnee fork in April. He and others of the Sioux had made protestations of friendliness, which had been accepted. The Sioux had fled with the Cheyennes but as Custer's orders were to "avoid collision" with friendly bands, he was pleasant. Only later would it be found out that it had been the Sioux who had killed the station keepers on the Smoky Hill. Custer wrote to his wife, "six of the principle Sioux Indians have just come in to see me to sue for peace for their whole tribe. . . . . I encouraged peace propositions. . . . " [40]

Sherman, old and wise in the ways of the wily Indian, did not agree with Custer's handling of the situation. When he came in next day to the cavalry camp, he suggested that Custer might rather have taken some hostages that would have insured the behavior of Pawnee Killer's band. Sherman remained with the young general for two days talking at length with him about his next movement. Though the orders were verbal, [41] there has since been no disagreement as to their content. Custer was to go down to the forks of the Republican river and scout the region thoroughly for Indians. He was to come up to Fort Sedgwick for supplies and further orders, then make a long march to the west along the Republican, coming out on the Platte somewhere west of Fort Sedgwick. Contingencies might arise for which Custer would have to use his own judgment; if he found Indians he could go anywhere -- to hell or Denver and not a word said if he marched his horses to death when he found a hot trail. Sherman was anxious to have the Indians harried out of the area. [42]

Custer arrived at the forks of the Republican June 21, having marched 107 miles "over very bad country" in four days. [43] The next day he dispatched D company under Lt. Samuel M. Robbins to accompany a train of 12 wagons commanded by Lt. William W. Cook [44] to Fort Wallace on the Smoky Hill for supplies. Along with the wagons and escort he sent Company K under Cpt. Robert M. West with instructions to stop at Beaver creek and scout it while D company went on into Fort Wallace.

The only explanation of this early need for supplies and in the opposite direction from which his orders indicated is given in the Custer memoirs:

Circumstances seemed to favor a modification . . .. at least as to marching the entire command to Fort Sedgwick . . . . . . . My proposed change of programme contemplated a continuous march, which might be prolonged twenty days or more. To this end additional supplies were necessary. The guides all agreed in the statement that we were then about equidistant from Fort Wallace on the south and Fort Sedgwick on the north, at either of which the required supplies could be obtained; but that while the country between our camp and the former was generally level and unbroken . . .. . . that between us and Fort Sedgwick was almost impassable for heavily-laden wagons. [45]

The real reason for going so quickly to Fort Wallace was to pick up Mrs. Custer who had been instructed by letter as early as June 17 to come to that post where a squadron would be sent for her. There was no danger -- the Indians were pretty well scared and peace had been made with Pawnee Killer. The marching would not be too hard for her. In the note he sent along by Lieutenant Cook the devoted husband wrote, "I never was so anxious in my life." Not anxious for her safety and comfort but anxious to have her with him. [46]

Custer's facile decision not to obey Sherman's express orders to draw his supplies from Fort Sedgwick was evidence of his rather casual view of the whole expedition and its purpose. There was good reason for Sherman's instructions. The primary purpose of the scout was to protect the Platte trail and railroad and the appearance of the troop at Fort Sedgwick near the railroad would be a warning to hostile Indians. Furthermore Fort Sedgwick was easily provisioned by rail while Fort Wallace could only be supplied with difficulty by wagon trains.

Maj. Joel Elliott was given the duty of getting Custer's report to Sedgwick and bringing back any further orders from General Sherman. Allowed to make his own arrangements he elected to depend on speed rather than numbers and took with him but one scout and 10 men on fast horses. He left the camp at three A.M. the morning of June 23.

Then, when more than a third of Custer's command was gone on their errands, the "monotony of idleness" [47] was broken at daybreak on June 24 by a party of 50 Indians, all gaudily painted and accoutered as a war party. The picket was shot down but the quick response of the troopers foiled an attempt to drive off the cavalry horses. While everybody in camp considered the Indian action an attack, Custer would not have it so. He sent his scout to give the sign for a parley. As he said:

I was extremely anxious . . . . to detain the chiefs near my camp and keep up the semblance at least of friendship . . . . I was particularly prompted to this desire by the fact that the two detachments which had left my command the previous day would necessarily continue absent several days, and I feared that they might become the victims of an attack from this band if steps were not taken to prevent it. [48]

The parley was attended by seven officers and seven chiefs, one of whom was Pawnee Killer, who had been specifically warned to go north of the Platte or remain near Fort McPherson or otherwise be liable to attack. The parley was inconclusive. The reporter, Davis, gives a somewhat different account of this episode than does Custer in. his memoirs:

The circumstance was an afternoon peace talk with some Sioux chiefs who had that morning made an attack of small moment upon Custer's camp, and later with considerable impudence accorded to the General an opportunity to talk the matter over-stipulating that the meeting should be a friendly affair and to this end the parties to it must appear unarmed, in fulfillment of which the individuals on both sides were so loaded down with weapons that an indifferent concealment of their armament gave rise to observable stiffness of movement especially on the part of the most prominent members of the peace congress. It was discovered when too late to avoid the session, that notwithstanding what seemed a sufficient precaution -- the Indians really controlled the situation and were obviously aware of the fact -- and it is my firm conviction, that our little party escaped, and the affair ended without a sanguinary conclusion, mainly by the peculiar influence of Custer's presence. [49]

Custer told Pawnee Killer he would follow him to his camp. "We followed as rapidly as our heavier horses could travel, but the speed of the Indian pony on this occasion, as on many others, was too great for that of our horses." [50] Lt. Henry Jackson, who was supervising the odometer, mapping, and recording each day's journey, also gave a laconic account of the pursuit: "At 12 M., struck camp and moved out after Indians [,] crossing the north Fork [of the Republican] and marching S. W. along south Fork and marched 2 M. when we turned N. E. by E. and returned to our old camp. Found Indians had been in our camp while we were away. [51]

The Indians continued their fun and games, luring away from camp a detachment under Cpt. Louis M. Hamilton. After some maneuver and skirmish Hamilton came back with the loss of only one horse. The most thrilling event of the afternoon was the chase by a half-dozen well-mounted warriors after Dr. I. T. Coates who for some reason or another found himself about four miles out of camp on a jaded horse. The doctor out-ran his pursuers and arrived safely in camp because as Custer said, "our domestic horses, until accustomed to their presence, are as terrified by Indians as by a huge wild beast, and will fly from them. . . ." [52]

After the encounter with Pawnee Killer Custer was truly anxious for his wife's safety. On the morning of June 25 he sent out another full company , E, under Cpt. Edward Myers, who was to march without halting to Captain West on the Beaver and then with him proceed on towards Fort Wallace to further protect the supply train and Mrs. Custer. Now one half of the Custer command was committed to this duty of replenishing the supplies and bringing out Mrs. Custer.

So expeditiously did Myers move that by the morning of the 26th, he and Captain West were able to pick up the supply train about 30 miles out of Fort Wallace and frighten away a party of several hundred Cheyennes and Sioux, who had been attacking the train for about three hours. The train was doing quite well by itself. Commanded by Lieutenant Robbins the troopers had been dismounted and deployed in a circle on foot on all sides of the wagons which advanced in parallel columns. The horses were led between the wagons. This was the standard defense posture for wagon trains under Indian attack. The red warriors circled around at some distance exchanging shots with the troopers. No one was killed on either side though the cavalry was sure that a few of the Indians had bit the dust. Mrs. Custer had not come to Fort Wallace and was not with the train. [53] Escorted from then on by three companies of cavalry the supply wagons arrived at the camp on the Republican on the morning of June 27. A quick trip had been made.

The scout, William Comstock, who had gone with the train, had cherished for some time the belief that the Indian camps, which it was hoped Custer would find, were located somewhere on Beaver creek. This was undoubtedly the reason Captain West had been sent to scout there though his orders from Custer "contemplated a friendly meeting between his forces and the Indians should the latter be discovered." [54] When the wagons and escort arrived at Fort Wallace they were greeted with the news that the Cheyennes had for a month been raiding the stage stations along the Smoky Hill almost nightly. On June 21 the fort itself had been attacked, two men had been killed and others wounded. [55] So as was very evident the Indians were hostile and probably camped not a great distance to the north.

Lt. Joseph Hale, Third U. S. infantry, commanding at Wallace, reported on June 27:

Lieutenants Robbins and Cook, 7th Cavalry arrived at this post on the 24th. Inst. from Genl. Custer's command, with about twenty wagons, for rations and q.m. stores. They returned on the evening of the 25th. Comstock, the guide who accompanied these officers, thinks that Indian villages can he found on "Beaver Creek." [56]

Hancock sending this report on to Sherman phrased it differently, "Comstock . . . crossing a trail of seven hundred warriors going toward Beaver Creek." [57]

The attack on the wagon train by both the Sioux and the Cheyennes, mostly Sioux, must have reinforced Comstock's belief that the hostiles could be found somewhere on the Beaver if anyone cared to seek them out. [58]

As for the supplies, the large amount drawn by Custer depleted the store at Fort Wallace. Lieutenant Hale noted in his report, "I would also respectfully state that the supply of commissary stores will soon be exhausted, officers supplies are entirely out." [59] Custer would later complain bitterly about the dearth of officers' supplies.

The supply wagons returned to the camp on the Republican on June 27 and Major Elliott came back from Fort Sedgwick on the 28th, reporting the distance therefrom to be 105 miles. He brought no new orders from Sherman, only a reiteration from General Augur:

I infer from a dispatch recd. from Gen. Sherman that he will order you again to the Smoky Hill route. If not, proceed to carry out such instructions as you have already recd. from him concerning your present scout, and having completed it, return to Sedgwick. . . . I think it very important to get Pawnee-Killer and all other Indians who desire to be friendly, out of the Republican country, and wish you to do all you can to accomplish it. If your instructions from Gen. Sherman will allow it, pitch into the Cheyenne Villages by all means. . . . If you do not meanwhile receive orders from Gen. Sherman, I will have none for you on your arrival at Sedgwick. Meantime scout the country well. . . . [60]

Despite Sherman's and now Augur's emphasis on the importance of getting the friendly Indians out of the country and attacking the hostile ones, together with Comstock's freely expressed opinion as to where the camps were, Custer now decided to follow the letter of Sherman's earlier instructions, when no one knew anything about the Indians on the Beaver. On June 29 he took off, marching for more than two days along the south side of the South fork of the Republican, which in that area turns rather sharply to the southwest. On the third clay they "crossed an Indian trail going up it" and before they camped that night crossed the river itself. After that they went north-northwest until they reached the Platte. On July 3 they encountered some difficulty in finding a crossing over Black Tail Deer creek and in the afternoon and evening suffered a terrible wind and hail storm which blew down most of the tents and did much damage to the camp. On July 4, they marched but five miles and then paused to rest for the final journey to the Platte. Just why Custer proposed to travel this great distance in one prolonged effort is not known. Since it would go over a divide he might have feared he would find little water. Perhaps he did not realize the distance would be so long or perhaps be was impatient to get the orders that might send him back to the Smoky Hill.

Gen. Custer and his wife Elizabeth with her servant Eliza

Bvt. Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, his wife Elizabeth, and her servant Eliza.

please click for much larger graphic

A portion of a Corps of Engineers map of 1868, showing the travels of Custer
and others in western Kansas. The original map is preserved
in the National Archives, Washington, D. C.

Custer and Elizabeth at ease in their tent home in Ellis County, Kansas, probably in 1869, after his reinstatement as field commander of the Seventh U.S. cavalry.

p> Custer and Elizabeth at ease in their tent home in Ellis county, Kansas -- probably in 1869,
after his reinstatement as field commander of the Seventh U. S. cavalry.

The march began at midnight on the 4th and continued until eight o'clock in the evening of the 5th. On the journey the column found water in several places and stopped to water its horses at the last arroyo, where water lay in pools or could be obtained by digging. They were then about 24 miles from the Platte. On its return the detail would camp overnight at this spot. Nevertheless the trip was grueling, the latter part of the 60 miles under a hot July sun and through masses of cacti. [61] While Custer's later comments on this day differed in a number of details from Lieutenant Jackson's careful notes on the spot, it was more graphic. Many of the dogs with the column died from thirst and exhaustion. The indefatigable Custer with three companions rode ahead of the rest to select a good camping ground. But when they reached the river they were so spent that instead of going back to guide the troops behind, they all lay down on the bare ground and slept through the night unawakened by a shower of rain. The tired troopers found their own way to the river, camping almost three miles below their commander's bivouac. [62]

At nearby Riverside station Custer telegraphed for orders. He found that the next day after Major Elliott had left Sedgwick on June 26, new orders had come from Sherman. These had been entrusted to Lt. Lyman S. Kidder, Second U. S. cavalry, and an escort of 10 men and a scout with instructions to find Custer and deliver the orders to him. Kidder had not yet caught up with the column. A copy of the orders was transmitted to Custer and they gave him instructions to return to Fort Wallace. They also gave an intimation of Sherman's surprise that the young general had drawn supplies from Fort Wallace.

I don't understand about General Custer being on the Republican awaiting provisions from Fort Wallace. If this be so, and all the Indians be gone south, convey to him my orders that he proceed with all his command in search of the Indians towards Fort Wallace, and report to General Hancock, who will leave Denver for same place today. [63]

Sherman's shift of this his striking force down to the Smoky Hill was due not so much to the relative quiet on the Platte but to the great need on the Smoky Hill. The stage stations to the west had been under almost constant attack. The Indians came at night, stealing the horses and burning the buildings and the hay. Cpt. Myles W. Keogh at Fort Wallace pleaded constantly for more guards both for the stations and the fort. Musicians and mechanics had to be pressed into service. When Hancock went through on his way to Denver on June 18 he took Keogh and I company of the Seventh cavalry along as escort, leaving the post defended by an assortment of infantry and dismounted cavalrymen. Then the Indians attacked the post in broad daylight on June 21 and again on the 26th. Lt. Frederick H. Beecher, Third U. S. infantry, quartermaster at Fort Wallace, wrote to his mother after the June 21 attack. They had taken

. . . into the field one hundred and twenty-five infantry, unhorsed cavalry and citizens. We sit up nights and sleep by turns during the day. Really, I think we are not in danger of losing life and limb. We are only surrounded and thereby much inconvenienced and tried. My stone quarry has fallen into the enemies' hands and my work, thereby, almost stopped. Don't get up any alarm for my safety, but condole with me that the government will give us so few troops to fight so many Indians. [65]

The Indian raids spread to the east. The surveying teams began coming in to the forts as their escorts had to be reduced. Though the attacks in the west had been attributed to the Cheyennes and the Sioux, the Kiowas took a hand and on June 12 ran off all the government stock at Fort Dodge. Company A of the Seventh cavalry stationed there lost all its horses and was afoot. On June 16 a large train at Cimarron crossing was attacked, two men killed and the wagons plundered. [66] Some of the advance Union Pacific, Eastern Division, railroad workers were killed and the rest of the men fled from their work. [67] Demands for more protection came raining in on the army. Railroad officials bothered little to complain to the local post commanders but concentrated on the governor of Kansas and officials at Washington. [68] Hancock was in Denver or on the road. General Smith at Fort Harker in the center of the pressure did everything he could, cutting the guards where least necessary and it, maintaining them where they were vital. He had to keep the supply trains running for the very life of the forts to the west depended upon them. At the same time he pleaded to Sherman for more help. As early as June 19 he had asked that Custer be sent back to his district. Gov. Samuel Crawford of Kansas made a great fuss about the inadequacy of the army and offered to raise a regiment of local cavalry.

Sherman had been determined not to allow the use of local troops as he considered them prone to act irresponsibly as Chivington had done at Sand creek. [70] He had managed to avoid accepting them in Minnesota, Montana, and Colorado. In Kansas he vacillated, first giving permission and then withdrawing it. Finally on July 1 he gave Governor Crawford permission to enlist six or eight companies and having decided to allow them, wanted them by July 6. This was impossible. Recruits gathered quickly at Harker but had difficulty in finding horses.

Meanwhile fate threw another bolt at the straining army and its laboring General Smith at Fort Harker. Some companies of the 38th U. S. infantry coming from Jefferson Barracks to go with Maj. H. C. Merriam to New Mexico brought with them the deadly seeds of cholera. The first case was identified at Fort Harker on June 28. That same day the Merriam cortege left the fort for the southwest and as it went distributed the fatal disease it carried to every fort and camp at which it stopped -- Fort Zarah, Fort Larned, Fort Dodge, and Fort Lyon. The surgeon and his wife with the contingent were both victims.

At Fort Harker the same day the disease appeared in the 38th infantry another fatal case was noted in an employee of a beef contractor. For a few days the infection was confined to the troops camped about the post rather than in the garrison itself but the sickness soon engulfed not only the post but the town of Ellsworth as well. Dr. George M. Sternberg of the post eventually reported 79 cases in his hospital with 29 deaths but he agreed that probably as many as 200 died at and in the vicinity of Fort Harker. [71] Mrs. Sternberg and her cook died on two successive days. [72] The Catholic priest, Father Louis Dumortier, who served the area is said to have died alone, along the road, while his mule wandered away. [73]

The frontier newspapers, always booster minded, first ignored the epidemic. "The cholera rumors from Harker only increase in proportions and frightfulness. They are so conflicting and unsatisfactory . . . . we will not attempt any notice of it." [74] But eventually they had to notice it. A dispatch from Ellsworth dated July 26 read: "Everyone who was not tied here has left and no labor is performed at all. It is hard to get graves dug, or people to sit by corpses or to dress them for the grave. Long trains of loaded cars stand on the track with no one to unload them." [75]

The 18th Kansas cavalry -- four companies of them, that being all that horses could be provided for -- were mustered in on July 15. They too suffered from the cholera: "When the battalion was in line, being mustered into service at Fort Harker, the cholera was raging in the garrison and three of the Kansas boys were stricken down while the oath was being administered. The remainder, however, stood firm and when the ceremony was over, marched off the parade ground with a steady step."

Starting out on an assignment to scout between the Smoky and the Arkansas, they made a long march, all apparently well until after supper in camp: "In another hour the camp became a hospital of screaming cholera patients. Men were seized with cramping of the stomach, bowels, and muscles of the arms and legs. The doctor and his medicine were powerless to resist the disease. . . . . The morning of the 17th found five dead and thirty-six stretched on the ground in a state of collapse." [77] Such was the savage onset of the disease.

Worried by the situation at Harker, General Sherman came out on July 5 and remained until the 12th when Hancock came through on his way back from Denver. General Smith then and later refused to be relieved. [78] He knew the problems and he knew the territory and the disposition of the troops in the posts and along the trail. He would stick with the job until the situation eased. Sherman had done what he could to relieve the pressure for more troops -- he had ordered Custer back to the Smoky Hill and much against his judgment had allowed the recruitment of the local cavalry. As for the cholera he could only send more doctors.

Custer on the Platte did not linger long, scarcely 24 hours. Despite the punishing march and the need of rest for both horses and men, the command was forced to move quickly out into the wastes again. The temptation of the busy, well-traveled trail along the river was too much for the tired, beaten men and in that one night on the Platte about 30 of them deserted. [79] Even when the company, 12 miles out paused for dinner, the men slipped away in groups of two or three. Outraged at such open flouting of oaths and duty, Custer impulsively ordered officers out after them "to bring none in alive." In the hurried chase to stop the deserters, three were shot, one, Charles Johnson of Company K, was fatally wounded by a ball through his head and chest. An army wagon was sent out to bring in the injured. When it returned to the column and the doctor started towards it, the commander ordered him to stop and "not to go near those men." This denial of medical attention was apparently to be a warning against further desertion. As the troopers passed the wagon, some threw their overcoats into its bed so that the wounded would not have to lie on the bare, rough boards.

A bit later Custer privately told Dr. Coates to attend the deserters but to not let it be known that he had had second thoughts. The result was a rather bizarre situation and much conflicting testimony later. According to the doctor the wounds were not dressed for two days because there was no good water available and besides gunshot wounds often dried up better by themselves without being dressed. The men were left in the wagon because it was more comfortable than the ambulances which had weak springs. The men had been given opiates within two hours after they were shot and this repeated medication had kept them relatively comfortable throughout the journey. None of the wounds had been considered serious though Johnson's was worse than the others. The doctor would swear that Johnson died of his wound and not from any lack of medical attention but some of the troopers and officers would continue stubbornly to believe that the wounded men had been inhumanely treated. [80]

Custer was short on supplies. He could have gone on up to Fort Sedgwick where they had been waiting for him for some time but that would have put him back at least a day and would also have run the risk of more desertions. Moreover he was anxious on account of Lieutenant Kidder as well as anxious to get back to the Smoky Hill and his wife. So out they went through the dust, heat, and cactus beds, still carrying in their bones the weariness of that awful march of July 5. Each day they must march a little farther than they thought they could because they must get to Wallace before the supplies gave out. [81]

On the way they found the remains of Lieutenant Kidder and his party, 12 men dead and well cut up, near the Beaver creek where Comstock had been so sure the Indians were camped. [82] There was no doubt about it; this was the work of the Sioux, the answer to Custer's forbearance. It was ironic too that had Custer sent to Sedgwick for supplies as ordered, Kidder might not have died. The road to Sedgwick from the Republican fork being, as Custer said, more difficult and the wagon train slower than Elliott's stripped down party, the supply train might well have brought down the new orders and saved that long march to the west which had been so hard on the men and the horses and so barren of results. Custer could not but have been discouraged and depressed by his summer's work.

As history now records it, Pawnee Killer's band was responsible for the killing of the station men in April which started the war. [83] The party that attacked the wagon train out of Fort Wallace had been mostly Sioux. [84] It was Pawnee Killer who had made the pass at Custer's camp on the Republican. Finally it was the Sioux with a few Cheyennes who had killed and mutilated the Kidder party. [85] This was the way the Indians made war -- friendly on the surface but ready to use a knife in the back at the first opportunity. Every young army officer had to learn this. Half-Cheyenne George Bent told the Indian story of the summer. "All through June, July and August the Indians continued to raid . . . easily avoiding the large bodies of troops sent against them and attacking the small detachments." [86]

Custer arrived at Fort Wallace on July 13, camping several miles out in order to have good grazing for the horses. On this last lap he had marched 181 miles in seven days to average 26 miles a day. His overall rate for the entire patrol was a little more than 25 miles a day.

There had been an easing of the Indian attacks within Fort Wallace's jurisdiction. General Hancock had come back from Denver, dropping off Keogh and his company at Wallace and distributing in turn his infantry escort at the stations along his way east. The two surveying parties, Greenwood's and Wright's, that had been at the post several weeks hoping to get a larger escort from Hancock, plucked up their courage and went on with what they had. [87] The mail stages, running double, were coming through about once a week. [88] Some of the stage stations had been abandoned and travel on the trail had been reduced mainly to supply or immigrant trains of at least 20 wagons and 30 men. There was apparently no forage and little grain at the fort, nor were there enough horseshoes to refit Custer's horses. [89] Fortunately for history Keogh was still writing his frequent reports to headquarters, always with some complaint of shortages. On July 8 he was low on arms and ammunition because he had had to supply every train from the east that demanded them. The supply trains too had to return east without any protection and he had not received a single man "to carry out the instructions in regard to reinforcing the stations." He had only 50 men at the post and his cavalry was in bad shape. Perhaps he hoped some of Custer's men would be allotted to relieve the manpower stringencies of his command. He wrote:

The horses of I troop are in no better condition than those of the remainder of the regiment just come in with General Custer and without grain they will not be fit to do any duty as they are all broken down. I have the honor to state that rations will last only until the 15th of August and until then only in ease no more troops come here needing them. [90]

So it was explicit that when Custer arrived at Fort Wallace there was no shortage of rations. Still the post was dreary enough to a man who had been out in the wilderness for six weeks.

It was Sherman's expectation, when he instructed Custer to go to Fort Wallace, that he would get there about the same time as General Hancock, who would give him further orders. But since Custer had not received those orders until two weeks after they were issued he had missed Hancock and was now at Wallace without orders. Not that this made any practical difference -- his men and his horses were so exhausted that they would not be ready for further duty for some time.

Custer did not know where his wife was since no letters from her were at Fort Wallace to explain why she had not come there as he had hoped. [91] He was naturally much concerned. If only he had some way to quickly contact General Smith, he could reasonably ask for a short leave while his command recuperated. General Smith was sympathetic with his officers in such matters. In a telegram to Custer on June 18 on army business, General Smith, rather against army practice, had contrived to let the cavalryman know that his wife was well and safe. "The people are here with me and all well." [92]

Unfortunately, with no telegraph and the stages running but once a week, there was no hope for quick communication to solve Custer's dilemma. He resolved on another course. He explained to Major Elliott, to whom he left his command, that being without orders he felt it was his duty to follow his superior commander to headquarters or at least to go to the nearest telegraph office and report to him. [93] This sounded plausible and as it proved later if Custer had gone down by stage or with a returning supply train his action would not have been unduly questioned. Instead he ordered his company officers to select each from his own company 12 men with the best horses for a journey down to Fort Harker. When later called on to explain the need for such a huge escort which required practically every horse that was in fit condition, he said: "I expected to apply for Quartermasters' supplies that were actually required . . . and besides, I needed a large number of fresh animals. . . . It was well-known and conceded that I required these animals and therefore I supposed that they would be ready for me." [94]

Considering Custer's experience with the quartermasters corps in the spring it is to wonder how be could believe that the horses would be ready for him just because they bad been promised and he needed them. As for the horseshoes to be applied for, they would not fill more than one wagon. Altogether his excuses were rather weak and when he wrote his memoirs a few years later he set forth more compelling reasons for going down to Fort Harker, with a large detail. He wrote that when he reached Fort Wallace on July 13, he found it in dire straits:

Stages had been taken off the route. . . . . . . No despatches or mail had been received at the fort for a considerable period, so that the occupants might well have been considered as undergoing a state of siege. Added to these embarrassments . . . a more frightful danger stared the troops in the face. . . . The reserve of stores at the post were well-nigh exhausted. . . . Cholera made its appearance among the men, and deaths occurred daily. [95]

No one of these statements was true. The post was in better shape than it had been in June and certainly did not now consider itself besieged. There was food for a month and there was no cholera. It would not reach the Seventh cavalry until July 22 and then it would be frightful. Confined to the cavalry camp, the mortality would be higher than anywhere else -- 11 deaths out of 17 cases -- because the men were so worn by the hard marching. [96] But Custer was not there to see it. Probably on July 13 Fort Wallace was not even aware of the cholera at Harker. Yet historians would repeat and repeat again that Custer had gathered together his best troops and horses to break through a trail swarming with fierce Indians in order to bring back badly needed medicine for the sick and food supplies for the beleaguered and hungry post.

The contingent of four officers and 72 men started down the trail the evening of July 15. The weather had turned dry and hot now and the night march would be more comfortable. With them Keogh sent a supply wagon to provision the several stations to the east that were under his supervision. After a march of 32 miles they reached Smoky Hill station at sunrise, took leave of Keogh's supply wagon and stopped for about two hours, "command unsaddled, and the horses were grazing, and the command were sleeping. [97] Then they went on through the morning hours making about 20 miles more before they stopped near Monument Station.

Here they met a supply train carrying forage for Fort Wallace and obtained enough forage for the horses for the rest of the trip. Cpt. Frederick W. Benteen, Company H, Seventh cavalry, who, detached on other duty, had not been with the regiment, was in charge of the escort for the four large supply trains traveling together [98] Benteen was going out to join his regiment. He had left Fort Hays on July 12, met the Custer column near the monuments and would be in Fort Wallace on the 19th. He undoubtedly gave Custer all the news of the regiment and other army details. If the general had not known where his wife was and whether she was in danger he would certainly have found out from Benteen. He may have been told of the cholera at Fort Harker but Mrs. Custer was at Fort Riley where there was no cholera. Unknown to everybody somewhere in one of the trains rode the germs of the dreaded disease that would in a few days show its presence in the Seventh cavalry.

Through the afternoon the Custer column went on under the cruel sun making less than 20 miles when near Chalk Bluffs before sundown they "stopped, and made coffee, and rested about three-fourths of an hour." [99] Then they marched steadily through the second night. They marched in the usual cavalry fashion at an ordinary walk for about 50 minutes of each hour. Then the troopers were wheeled into line and dismounted without unsaddling for five or ten minutes. Now in this hourly pause the men fell asleep on the ground and a sergeant had to he sent around to waken them from a slumber so deep that at the command the horses went on without them. The horses began to give out; five of them were left at Grinnell Springs station during the night. When on the trail the played-out beasts were shot at first so the Indians would not get them; later they were just left where they lay.

On this second day two miles east of Castle Rock station the column met two mail stages, [100] which were stopped and Custer searched through the mail bags, finding no letters or orders for himself. Before they went on the general noticed that his mare, Fanchon, and the man who led her were missing. Although until now he had left the management of the column to Captain Hamilton, Custer personally gave Sgt. James Connelly an extra horse and an escort of six men to go back and find Trooper Young and the mare.

According to all reports Indians lurked about the trail [101] and yet Custer sent six men on worn-out horses on this dangerous errand.

Young and the mare were found at Castle Rock and as the party came hurrying back to catch up with the main column it was attacked by Indians. One man was shot and fell off his horse; another was wounded. The excited mare pulled her leader several hundred yards off the trail and the Indians moved to cut her off. By the time the mare was back on the trail the wounded man had fallen well back behind the rest. The sergeant wanted to go back and tie the wounded man on his horse and bring him in, but two of the troopers refused to come back and galloped ahead. In the melee of shouting and shooting the wounded man slipped off his horse. With only two effective men left and the Indians closer to the wounded man than he was, the sergeant felt forced to go on and leave him. The Indians followed the party until they were about a mile and a half or 15 minutes from Downer station where the command had stopped.

When the sergeant's party came pounding into Downer's with its tale of Indians it made quite a stir. The men pulled themselves out of their lethargy and waited for the command to go out and find their fellow troopers and drive off the Indians. Hamilton reported to Custer but nothing happened. The griping in the ranks grew loud and mutinous, so much so that Hamilton went again to Custer. The general was not accustomed to consult his officers about his orders, nor did he welcome advice. Now he merely said they would have to go on. [102]

Later Custer would give several accounts of this episode. In his general report of his summer's work on August 6, he wrote:

My march from Fort Wallace to Fort Harker was made without incident except the killing of two men about five miles beyond Downer's Station. A sergeant and six men had been sent back to bring up a man who had halted at the last ranch; when returning this party was attacked by between forty and fifty Indians, and two of them killed. Had they offered any defense this would not have occurred, instead however they put spurs to their horses and endeavored to escape by flight. [103]

Custer insisted all along that the two men had been reported to him as dead. The fact that he believed them to be dead seems to have removed them from any further consideration. Any further duty he might have had was to punish the Indians. As for this, Custer had learned better: "I well knew, and so did everyone else who knows of Indian warfare, that any party I might send back, by the time it reached the scene of attack, would find no trace of the Indians. The latter would not even leave a trail to follow and it would have been the measure of absurdity to have undertaken such an errand." [104]

In his memoirs the young general again referred to the incident:

Almost at every station we received intelligence of Indians having been seen in the vicinity within a few days of our arrival. We felt satisfied they were watching our movements, although we saw no fresh signs of Indians until we arrived near Downer's station. Here, while stopping to rest our horses for a few minutes, a small party of our men, who had without authority halted some distance behind, came dashing into our midst and reported that twenty-five or thirty Indians had attacked them some five or six miles in rear, and had killed two of their number. As there was a detachment of infantry guarding the station, and time being important, we pushed on to our destination. [105]

The infantry captain, Arthur B. Carpenter, 37th U. S. infantry provided the sequel. "As Genl. Custer moved on without giving any directions concerning the bodies of these men, I sent out a detail to find them, they found one man killed and one wounded. I had the body buried and the wounded man is at this post under treatment." [106]

The cavalry column went on down the trail, the troopers adding one more sullen resentment to their accumulated misery. There was now only a little more than 40 miles to go. The pace was very slow. Bone-weary and sleep-sodden the men and horses plodded on under the pitiless July sun. Lieutenant Cook remembered a stop somewhere along in the afternoon; Hamilton did not. Sergeant Connelly's horse gave out and he crawled into an ambulance and slept. They reached Big Creek station near Fort Hays on the morning of the 18th, one said at three o'clock, another said daybreak. They had made altogether about 150 miles in from 55 to 57 hours of almost steady marching. [107] Hamilton estimated that they had rested five hours all together, Cook believed it was nearer 10.

Custer had begun his summer's work with a march after fleeing Indians of 150 miles in four and a half days, which both he and Hancock thought very good marching. Now he had ended his summer's work with a march of almost exactly the same distance in two and a half days. And for what purpose? Custer was fond of recounting his fast marches but this one, he always insisted, was not a rapid march; it was "slow -- the average being less than three and a half miles an hour, which every cavalryman knows to be a slow and deliberate rate of marching." [108]

When the contingent reached Big Creek station the men rested. That night 20 of them deserted. Custer, his brother Tom, Lieutenant Cook, the reporter Davis and an orderly boarded the two ambulances that had been brought along from Fort Wallace. [109] Four fresh mules were harnessed to the ambulances and off they went down the trail to Fort Harker. All the rest of the day they sped along, the passengers undoubtedly catching up on their sleep. About nine o'clock in the evening near Bunker Hill the ambulances met another supply train under the escort of Cpt. Charles C. Cox, 10th U. S. cavalry. [110] Cox had Custer's orders, the lack of which had brought the general on this wearisome journey. According to his instructions he was to remain based at Fort Wallace and operate between the Platte and the Arkansas. "The cavalry should be kept constantly employed." [111]

The orders were clear and incontrovertible. But Custer was too near his goal; the temptation was too great. The overriding desire that had colored his whole summer and influenced almost every move of his extended scout was still unsatisfied. He would not face another sentence to the dry empty wastes without his comfort and his stay. Within a day or two he could pick up his wife and be back long before his men were able to travel again on the desert patrol. Custer went on into Fort Harker. He arrived about 2:00 or 2:30 A. M. on the morning of July 19. He went at once to awaken General Smith.

It will be remembered that at this time Fort Harker was in the grip of the cholera epidemic. Due to the persistent Indian attacks along the trails and his shortage of manpower, Smith had been struggling to keep the supply trains going and the railroad protected. Surveyors, railroad officials, the newspapers, and the public were clamoring and complaining about the inadequacies of the military. Pressed almost beyond reason by his cares and responsibilities, General Smith was sleeping heavily when Custer arrived. Custer had not been Smith's responsibility; Sherman had made the plans, taken him out of the department and directed his movements. Although Smith knew of Custer's imminent return under Sherman's orders, he could not know but what Sherman had also given the young officer a leave of absence.

This nighttime appearance was confusing to the sleep-fogged Smith. But as usual he was kind and genial. He asked Custer about his summer patrol and went to waken his adjutant, Lt. Thomas B. Weir, to take Custer to the train. Because he already knew, Custer did not ask where Mrs. Custer was; he talked fast, carefully not asking permission to go to Fort Riley but still making it plain that he was on his way. Smith who always wanted everybody to be happy, called out as his officers left, that Custer should pay his respects to the ladies). [112]

Only the next morning, clear-headed and rested, did Smith again consider and investigate Custer's nighttime appearance:

Gen. Custer came to my quarters between two and three o'clock at night and I don't know that I asked the question how he came down. It was my impression he came by stage. I learned the next morning from my Adj. Gen. Lt. Weir that he came with an escort part of the way, and in an ambulance from Fort hays to Ft. Harker, and then I immediately ordered him back to his command. He left for Fort Riley on the three o'clock train and from there I ordered him back the next morning after I learned how he came down. [113]

In Custer's new orders had been a request for an immediate report of his summer's scout. When this was not forthcoming promptly, Smith, knowing Hancock's desire for early information, gathered together as many details as he could and sent them to his superior under date of July 28. In this report he also recited his further action in regard to Custer:

On the 19th I telegraphed him to return immediately to Fort Wallace and rejoin his command unless he had permission from higher authority to be absent. He telegraphed me to know if he could wait until Monday and I replied that he must return by the first train. He started by the first train but was delayed with no fault of his until the night of the 21st. As soon as he reported to me, I placed him under arrest, his family and baggage were with him and under the circumstances, I deemed it best to send him back to Fort Riley, where he now remains in arrest. Charges against Gen. Custer will be forwarded to you tomorrow. [114]

General Smith did not want Mrs. Custer at Fort Harker where she might contract cholera so, thoughtful as ever, he sent the Custers back to Fort Riley. As he related in the report above, Smith placed Custer in arrest on July 21. General Hancock hearing indirectly of Custer's arrival had his adjutant telegraph Smith on July 22:

The Major General Commanding directs me to say that he presumes you did not allow Genl. Custer to go to Fort Riley. He should have been arrested as his action was without warrant and highly injurious to the service, especially under the circumstances. The General thinks you should have preferred charges against Genl. Custer giving his instructions to his successor in command but if he has gone back without delay from Fort Harker lie leaves the matter in your hands. [115]

Hence, though Hancock agreed as to the necessity of discipline, he left the final decision to Smith who had already put Custer under arrest before he received the telegram from Hancock. Custer always blamed Hancock for his arrest and court-martial, saying Smith had signed the charges but Hancock had ordered him to do so.

Though Lieutenant Jackson had kept a careful log of the travels to the Platte and back, a more comprehensive report was due from the commanding officer. While under the circumstances Custer could not have been very busy he put off writing his report until August 6 and 7. By that time Charles Johnson, the wounded deserter had died and Custer's mind was very much on the desertions. On the field of action he had always believed attack was the best defense. He blamed the desertions on the commissary:

The march from the Platte to Fort Wallace was a forced one, from the fact that although my train contained rations for my command up to the 20th of the month yet when the stores came to be issued they were discovered to be in such a damaged condition that it would be with difficulty they could be made to last until we should reach Fort Wallace. And I take this opportunity to express the belief, a belief in which I am supported by facts as well as by the opinions of the officers associated under me, that the gross neglect and mismanagement exhibited in the Commissary Department through this District has subjected both officers and men to privations for which there was no occasion and which were never contemplated or intended by the Government when my command left Fort Hays for the Platte. The officers were only able to obtain hard bread and bacon, coffee and sugar for their private messes although it had been known weeks, if not months, before that a large command was expected to arrive at Fort Hays; in the same manner it was known that an expedition was contemplated to the Platte. On my return march to Fort Wallace all hard bread not damaged was required to subsist the enlisted men, while the officers were actually compelled to pick up and collect from that portion of the hard bread which had been condemned and abandoned, a sufficient amount to subsist themselves to Fort Wallace. That this bread was damaged will not appear remarkable when it is known that some of the boxes were marked 1860. [116]

The core of the complaint seems to be that the officers had to subsist often on the troopers' ration of bacon, hardtack, sugar, and coffee and that the hard tack was damaged. It was true that fine stores for the officers had been nonexistent most of the time at Hays and probably Custer did not get all he ordered when he sent his wagons to Wallace. Certainly this was a deprivation that Custer had not suffered before in his earlier army service and he must have felt it keenly. The ration of the soldier on the Plains was monotonous and unappetizing. If in 1867 it was also generally aged and defective, such evidence does not appear in the reports of any command of the Kansas posts.

The charges made against General Custer by General Smith were first, "Absence without leave from his command," and second, "Conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline." Under the second charge, specific allegations were made of "overmarching and damaging the horses" on a march not on public business, using government ambulances and mules on unauthorized business, and failure to take proper measures for the repulse of Indians or for the defense and relief of his detachment near Downer's station. [117]

Captain West of the Seventh cavalry, still angry at the shooting and subsequent death of his trooper, Charles Johnson, preferred additional charges against Custer under that all inclusive head of "Conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline," which specified particularly that Custer had ordered the shooting of the deserters without trial and afterwards denied them medical attention and care. [118]

Beginning on September 15 the court-martial sat for almost a month at Fort Leavenworth. General Custer was found guilty on all charges, [119] and sentenced "To be suspended from rank and command for one year, and forfeit his pay for the same time." [120] It seems likely that although the army brass could not refuse to accept and try the charges of Captain West, it was not in sympathy with them. Custer's action in regard to the deserters may have been unwise and unnecessary but the army believed that the commander of a military detachment in the field must be the sole judge of the measures necessary to preserve his command from danger even if he had to shoot someone. This was made clear in the review of the court-martial proceedings by the judge advocate general in Washington. Gen. Joseph bit wrote first in regard to the charges preferred by General Smith:

The conclusion unavoidably reached under this branch of the inquiry, is that Gen. Custer's anxiety to see his family at Fort Riley overcame his appreciation of the paramount necessity to obey orders which is incumbent on every military officer; and that the excuses he offers for his acts of insubordination are afterthoughts. For this offense alone it is believed that the sentences pronounced by the court is in no sense too severe, especially when considered in connection with the finding under specification 4th of charge 2, alleging neglect to pursue and punish certain Indians who had attacked a small party detached from his command, though he was officially informed at the time or within less than an hour after, of the death of one and probably two of his men in consequence of this attack, he is shown to have taken no measures to verify the statement or recover the bodies of the killed, but within half an hour afterwards to have continued his hurried march towards Fort Riley, and to have left this imperative duty to the officer of Infantry in command of the Post at Downer's Station. [121]

Holt then took up the additional charge of a "graver character," the "shooting down without trial of three enlisted men, on the supposition that they were deserters . . . ." This was discussed at great length and dealt with the statistics of desertion from the Custer contingent [122] and whether the loss of so many men placed the command in "the danger of an attack from a powerful enemy" and justified Custer's action by "an imperative necessity."

Should Gen. Custer's act be considered as an unwarranted exercise of lawless power, the result of habits of thought acquired while controlling in time of open war a large command, [123] and when accustomed to this doing of those duties of military emergency which war sometimes necessitates, and not as justified by the peculiar and difficult circumstances tinder which this deed was committed, the sentence pronounced by the Court in this case is utterly inadequate and measures should be at once taken for Gen. Custer's trial before a Court of competent jurisdiction. [124]

Custer's superiors thought he needed disciplining but they were not about to take his case any further. General Grant approved the sentence as it stood, though he commented on its leniency. In effect Custer was punished for absence without leave and for flouting the old army tradition that the army saves its wounded, buries its dead, and punishes its enemies; for his impulsive order to shoot the deserters he escaped penalty. When West, still unsatisfied, brought a charge of murder in civil court against his commander and Lieutenant Cook, who actually fired the shot, General Smith and Surgeon Madison Mills, medical director of the Department of the Missouri, came forward to sign Custer's bond. [125] After a few days' testimony the judge dismissed the case because the evidence did not support the charges. [126] Custer's first reaction to his arrest and the ensuing charges was mild enough for as his wife wrote to her cousin, "When he ran the risk of a court-martial in leaving Wallace he did it expecting the consequences." [127] Therefore it might seem he would not have been too disturbed at his sentence. Such was not the case. In assembling the evidence and constructing a defense he quite convinced himself of his innocence and was indignant at his conviction and sentence. He publicly charged that his judges had been prejudiced rather than judicious. The court had been improperly constituted -- too many of the officers were below him in rank and too many were from Hancock's staff, some from the commissary department and therefore hostile towards him for his complaints about army supply. His accusations were printed in the New York newspapers and widely distributed. [128] The higher echelons of the army must have regretted this publicity.

In apparent retaliation, Custer brought charges of "drunkenness on duty" against Captain West. West was undoubtedly a heavy drinker, though according to the testimony of his fellow officers he still managed to be one of the best company commanders in the regiment. Convicted on a part of the charges, West was suspended from rank and pay for two months and confined to the limits of the camp or post occupied by his company. [129] Sadly enough these court-martials, which called on many of the regimental officers for testimony, forced them to take one side or another, creating a schism in the regiment that was not healed for years.

All in all Custer's first year in the West had not been a success. He had displayed none of the aggressiveness and willingness to do and fight that Sherman had expected. A reluctant warrior, his only interest seemed to be in getting over the prescribed course as quickly as possible. He was annoyed at the discomfort of harsh weather and the uncertain supply which was almost inherent in Plains service. Irritated by the continuing desertions he overreacted by ordering drastic measures. Finally he had fled towards family and civilization in a journey so irrational in its haste that it could not fail to bring down upon him disciplinary charges. Faced with a mild sentence he had reacted publicly and petulantly with accusations of jealousy, bias, and injustice.

Yet who can say but that Custer was well-broken in. After his exile the young general would return to his regiment under the aegis of his former commander, admirer, and friend, Gen. Philip H. Sheridan. He was given every opportunity to show his mettle and responded vigorously. He followed Indian trails doggedly -- some weeks' old -- and discovered the tribesmen in their camp. When he found the enemy he attacked. He rescued white women captives from the Indians and seized red women as hostages. When on the trail the food supply was reduced to mule meat without bread, the general did not complain. His wife was with him in camp but not on his scouts. The pervasive theme of both of them in their memoirs would be the gayety and fortitude with which they had met the challenges, hardships, and deprivations of army life on the Plains.

NOTES

Mrs. MINNIE DUBBS MILLBROOK, native of Ransom, is the author of a history of her county, Ness-Western County, Kansas (Detroit, 1955). She now resides in Topeka and continues to contribute articles to newspapers and magazines relating to the history of the American West. One of her research projects is a biography of Mrs. George A. (Elizabeth) Custer.

1. Elizabeth B. Custer, Tenting on The Plains(New York, 1887), P. 595.
2. George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) was graduated from West Point in June, 1861, and went immediately into the army as second lieutenant in the Second U. S. cavalry. He spent little time with his regiments, becoming an aide successively to Generals Philip Kearny, George McClellan, and Alfred Pleasonton. In June, 1863, Custer received an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers, and in April, 1865, major general. Meanwhile, though his rank in the regular army advanced only to captain, he was awarded for meritorious services several brevets, the highest one of major general in 1865. Brevets were most often honorary ranks, which bestowed the title and the right to wear the insignia upon the officer, but not the pay or duties of the brevet rank except in special assignments. After the Civil War, officers customarily went under the title of their brevet rank. Hence Custer was Brevet Major General Custer though his pay and duty were that of lieutenant colonel of the Seventh U. S. cavalry.
3. Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886) was graduated from West Point in 1844. Most of his early service was in California and the West where he worked in the quartermaster corps. When the Civil War opened he was made a brigadier general of volunteers, in recognition of his known ability. He was a handsome man and that together with his able handling of his troops earned him the sobriquet of Hancock the Superb. He was given much credit for the Union victory at Gettysburg where he was wounded on the second day. After the war he was made a major general in the army. He had political ambitions and was nominated for President in 1880 by the Democratic party.
4. The Military Department of the Missouri was only a part of the Division of the Missouri commanded by William T. Sherman.
5. Andrew Jackson Smith (1815-1897) was graduated from West Point in 1838 and became second lieutenant in the First U. S. dragoons. He was in a number of the early cavalry movements in the West-with Stephen Kearnv to South Pass in 1845 and with the Mormon battalion in their march from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe and on to California in 1846-1847. His Civil War service was primarily in the Western campaigns where he commanded an army corps and several divisions. He was at Vicksburg, on the Bank's Red river campaign and with Thomas against Hood at Nashville. He was one of the few to defeat Nathan B. Forrest, whom he stopped at Tupelo in 1864. He attained the rank of major general of volunteers and major general by brevet in the regular army. He was appointed colonel of the Seventh U. S. cavalry in 1866.
6. The District of the Upper Arkansas was a temporary district created for this one season. Smith reported to Hancock and the records of the District can be found in the National Archives with those of the Department of the Missouri.
7. William Tecumseh Sherman, next to Grant, was the most famous of Union generals. The Military Division of the Missouri covered all the states and territories between the Mississippi and the Rocky mountains except Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.
8. Smith to Hancock, March 5, 1867, "Letters and Telegrams Received, Department of the Missouri, U. S. Army Commands, War Department," National Archives, Record Group 98. Hereafter records in the National Archives are indicated by the symbol NA, followed by the record group (RG) number.
9. Cpt. G. W. Bradley to Brig. Gen. S. C. Easton, March 3, 1867, "Letters Received, Dept. of the Missouri," NA, RG 98. Other sources that stress the bad rainy weather of the spring and early summer of 1867 are: Elizabeth B. Custer, Tenting on the Plains (New York, 1887) , pp. 614-618; William A. Bell, New Tracks in North America (Albuquerque, 1965), pp. 23-27; Theodore B. Davis, "With Generals in Their Camp Homes," Manuscript division, Kansas Historical Society.
10. W. H. Cantrill's testimony. -- Lawrence A. Frost, The Court-martial of General George Armstrong Custer (Norman, 1968), p. 204. This hook contains a transcript of the entire court-martial proceedings. Hereafter it will be cited simply as Court-martial. 11. Reports of Major General W. S. Hancock Upon Indian Affairs, With Accompanying Exhibits (Washington, n. d.), p. 17. 12. Junction City Weekly Union, March 30, June 1, 1867.
13. For accounts of the Hancock expedition see Reports of Major General W. S. Hancock Upon Indian Affairs, With Accompanying Exhibits; Difficulties With Indian Tribes, 41st Cong., 2d Sess., House-Exec. Doc. No. 240 (Serial 1425); Henry M. Stanley, My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia (London, 1895), v. 1, pp. 1-96; Theodore R. Davis, "A Summer on the Plains," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, New York, v. 36, (February, 1868), pp. 292-298; Gen. G. A. Custer, My Life on the Plains (New York, 1876), pp. 20-43; George Bird Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyenne's (New York, 1915), pp. 236-253; Marvin H. Garfield, "Defense of the Kansas Frontier, 1866-67," Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 1 (August, 1932), pp. 326-344; Donald J. Berthong, The Southern Cheyennes (Norman, 1963), pp. 269-281; Lonnie J. White, "The Hancock and Custer Expeditions of 1867," Journal of the West, Los Angeles, v. 5, No. 3 (July, 1966), pp. 355-378.
14. Camped with the Cheyennes on Pawnee Fork were some Sioux variously designated as of the Brule or Ogallala bands. In number they probably aggregated more than the Cheyennes since they left 140 lodges when they ran away while the Cheyennes left but 111. -See Hancock Reports, p. 51.
15. For Custer's route in pursuit of the Indians, see Minnie Dubbs Millbrook, Ness- Western County (Detroit, 1955), p. 55.
16. Junction City Union, April 20, 1867.
17. Difficulties With Indian Tribes, p. 107. Hereafter this will be cited as Difficulties.
18. Custer to Lt. Thomas B. Weir (Smith's acting assistant adjutant), May 4, 1867, Hancock's Reports, p. 79.
19. Ibid.
20. Gen. G. A. Custer, My Life on the Plains (New York, 1876), p. 46. Hereafter this source will be cited as My Life.
21. Custer, Tenting . . ., pp. 687, 688.
22. There were no new buildings or other improvements at Fort Hays as at the other posts because the fort was to be relocated nearer the route of the railroad
23. Theodore R. Davis, "With Generals in Their Camp homes," manuscript in Kansas Historical Society.
24. Custer to Elizabeth, April 22, 1867, Tenting, p. 570.
25. Custer to Elizabeth, April 8, 1867, ibid., pp. 527, 528.
26. This letter could not be found among the records hut it probably got the same reception as an earlier letter of Custer's to General Hancock stating that the army was too lenient with deserters-the lack of severe punishment encouraged desertion. Hancock answered rather tersely that he did not make - the policies of the army-he only followed orders.
27. Custer to Elizabeth, May 2, 1867, Tenting, p. 578.
28. Alfred Gibbs (1823-1868) was the senior major of the Seventh U. S. cavalry and a major general by brevet. He was from a distinguished New England family and was a West Point graduate, being a classmate of George McClellan and Stonewall Jackson. Like all the young army officers of his time he was sent west and had some service in the Mexican war where he won two brevets. He was badly wounded in an Indian skirmish. Early in the Civil War he was captured along with Maj. Isaac Lynde near Fort Fillmore in New Mexico by the Confederates, and placed on parole for a year. Though he therefore had a late start in the Civil War he rose to become a brigadier general with a brevet of major general in Sheridan's cavalry. Due to the old lance wound his health was poor. An excellent administrator and able handler of men, he played a most important part in the organization of the Seventh cavalry. He was often in command at Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth and organized the Seventh cavalry band.
29. Custer's first orders in regard to this scout are reproduced in Court-martial, pp. 124, 125.
30. Gen. W. T. Sherman to John Sherman, February 24, 1867, "W. T. Sherman Papers," Library of Congress. 31. Difficulties, p. 57.
32. Hancock to Smith, May 15, 1867, Department of the Missouri. United States Army Commands, NA, RG 98.
33. Smith to Hancock, May 23, 1867. When no other source is indicated for letters and dispatches in this paper, they are from the National Archives as above. 34. There was a great deal of discussion in the quartermaster corps in regard to this new system of furnishing fine stores for officers to purchase at reasonable prices. It would he impossible to know how much and what items to forward. One comment was that "perhaps it was unfortunate for the Officers of the Army that the authority to the subsistence department to supply the officers with canned articles was not deferred until all the officers who entered the army since 1860 had an opportunity to learn by experience how officers were supplied before that time." Another thought it could never be satisfactory. "Let the officers of the Subsistence Department try as they will, some officers of the army will expect to be able to procure articles at posts on the Plains as they would in the city." Like all new systems this one did not work well in the beginning and there were reports during the summer from various posts that the fine stores were exhausted.
35. Smith to Custer, May 31, 1867.
36. Report of the Secretary of War, 1867, 40th Congress, 2d sess., House Executive Document No. 1 (Serial 1324), p.33
37. My life, p. 53.
38. Ibid.
39. Custer aimed to average about 25 miles a day "when not in immediate pursuit of the enemy." -- My Life, p.52. Mrs. Custer wrote, "A cavalry column marches at the rate of four miles an hour, and the length of a (day's journey varies from twenty-five to forty miles." -- Elizabeth B. Custer, Following the Guidon (New York, 1890), p. 828. It would seem that this was considerably in excess of the usual cavalry rate in summer patrols on the Plains, which was governed by the necessity of keeping the horses in condition. "Twenty miles a day, for a horse loaded down with the heavy equipment of a dragoon soldier, is pretty hard traveling. . . . -Samuel J. Bayard, The Life of George Dashiell Bayard (New York, 1874), p. 121. See, also, "Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart's Journal, May 15 to August 11, 1860, "Relations With the Plains Indians, Leroy and Ann Hafen, editors (Glendale, 1959), pp. 2 15-244. The extent of the daily march was as carefully kept on this journey, as was that of Custer's in 1867. The average daily march was just under 18 miles.
40. Custer to Elizabeth, June 12, 1867, quoted in Court-martial, p. 46. Both Sherman and Hancock disapproved of Custer's handling of this situation. On June 26, 1867, Hancock wrote to Smith, "We will have no talks with Indians nor make any terms except absolute submission. . . .. . . Gen. Custer has accepted the surrender of Pawnee Killer and band to be placed at Ft. McPherson what I entirely disapprove, as also does Gen. Sherman."
41. Sherman's attitude towards the Indians, which he must have communicated to Custer were expressed in a dispatch to Hancock, June 11, 1867: "I hear that Custer is arriving at McPherson. After a very short rest, I will have him to scour the Republican to its source to kill and destroy as many Indians as possible, He will then come into the Platte here or above for orders. Look out on your line in case they run that way. You may reduce to submission all Indians between the Arkansas and Platte or kill them. All are hostile or in complicity. Keep our people as active as possible. . . ."
42. My Life, pp. 54, 55; Court-martial, pp. 191-193; Report of the Secretary of War, 1867, 40th Cong., 2d Sess., House Executive Document No. 1 (Serial 1324), p. 35. 43. Davis, "Summer on the Plains," p. 302; My Life, p. 55.
44. In Custer's account of this scout, he designates his officers by their brevet rank. That designation is not used in this paper except for the Generals Custer, Smith, and Gibbs, which conforms with the practice of the time. In army correspondence and records regimental officers are usually spoken of as in their regular rank. So too in the Custer court-martial record. Most of the better-known officers of the Seventh cavalry carried the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel, only Cpt. Frederick W. Benteen being a brevet colonel. 1st Lt. Samuel Robbins had no brevet rank because, as he wrote General Hancock, he had served in the First Colorado cavalry out west where no brevets had been recommended. Yet he had participated in many stiff engagements and was as deserving as the rest. Hancock recommended him for a brevet.
45. My Life, pp. 55, 56.
46. Tenting, pp. 581-583; Court-martial, pp. 54, 55. Frost in Court-martial states this letter shows Custer's anxiety about the spread of cholera. The cholera did not come to Kansas until June 28, so Custer could not possibly have known anything about it at this time.
47. This is Custer's own phrase. -- My Life, p. 56.
48. Ibid., p. 59.
49. Davis manuscript, "With Generals in Their Camp Homes."
50. My Life, p. 60.
51. Lt. henry Jackson, "Itinerary of the March of the Seventh United States Cavalry," June 24, 1867. This careful record with maps of each day's march and camp is in the National Archives. Though Jackson seldom gave any details beyond his log of distances, his work is a valuable check on other accounts.
52. My Life, p. 61.
53. It has never been satisfactorily explained why Mrs. Custer did not come to Fort Wallace as Custer had asked her to in his letter from Fort McPherson. He said (My Life, p. 64) that his letter had miscarried. Mrs. Custer says (Tenting, pp. 625-627) that she was at Fort Wallace when Cook and Robbins came for supplies and that Hancock, the commanding officer of the department, there temporarily, forbade her going. It is doubtful that Mrs. Custer ever went to Fort Wallace. In fact she had just returned to Fort Riley from Fort hays around June 18 (Tenting, pp. 547-549) and could not possibly have traveled to Fort Wallace in time to have arrived by June 24. her letter to Custer from Riley, June 27, does not indicate any trip that far west.
54. My Life, p. 63. This is an almost incredible statement since Custer had been seat to attack and kill any Indians found between the Platte and the Smoky.
55. Lt. Joseph Hale to Weir June 22, 1867, "Letters Sent," Fort Wallace Records, 1867. A copy of the records from the National Archives is in the Kansas Historical Society.
56. Hale to Weir, June 27, 1867, "Letters Sent," Fort Wallace Records.
57. Difficulties, p. 62.
58. Davis, "Summer on the Plains," p. 303, mentions that after the trip to Wallace Comstock, reading the Indian signs, declared that the Indians had moved west and camped at the head of the Beaver.
59. Hale to Weir, June 27, 1867, "Letters Sent," Fort Wallace Records.
60. C. C. Augur to Custer, telegram, June 25, 1867, Court-martial, p. 209.
61. The account of this march follows Jackson's "Itinerary" rather than that of Custer in his memoirs. Custer would say it was 65 miles long and that the troops did not all reach the river until morning, while Jackson records the (lay's march as 591/3 miles. He also states that the column arrived at the Platte at eight P. M., one mile west of Riverside station.
62. My Life, pp. 69, 70.
63. Report of the Secretary of War, 1867, p. 35; Court-martial, p. 200.
64. Captain Keogh commanding at Fort Wallace, gives an excellent account of Fort Wallace and the stations tinder his superintendence, he reported almost every other day until he went with General Hancock to Denver on June 18. Lt. Joseph Hale, taking Keogh's place as commanding officer, reported the battles of June 21 and 26 . See, also, Bell, New Tracks, p. 52. Cpt. Albert Barnitz of the Seventh cavalry has often been reported in command at Fort Wallace at this time he was there in command of the escort of the Gen. W. W. Wright surveying party and took part in the battle of the 26th.
65. Memorial of Lieut. Frederick Henry Beecher, U.S. A. (Portland, 1870), p. 31.
66. Maj. Henry Douglas to Brig. Gen. Chauncey McKeever, June 18, 1867, "Letters Sent," Fort Dodge Records, microfilm, Kansas Historical Society.
67. Just at this time Fort Hays was moving from its first location on the Smoky to a location, 17 miles northwest, on Big creek. This move brought the fort closer to the railroad line and thereafter when frightened by Indian attack the construction men often came into Fort Hays. Fort Hays records are very sparse and reflect this period inadequately.
68. Samuel J. Crawford, Kansas in the Sixties (Chicago, 1911), pp. 251-266.
69. Difficulties, p. 61, McKeever to Maj. Gen. William A. Nichols, telegram, June 19, 1867.
70. Robert G. Athearn, William Tecumseh Sherman and the Settlement of the West (Norman, 1956), pp. 126-148. Athearn discusses Sherman's attitude towards local troops.
71. "Epidemic Cholera," Report of Surgeon General's Office, June 10, 1868, Circular No. 1. This careful study records in detail the appearance and progress of the disease of cholera at Kansas posts and in various army details. All statements in this paper in regard to the cholera are taken from this source.
72. Alice Blackwood Baldwin, Memoirs of the Late Frank D. Baldwin (Los Angeles, 1929), pp. 133, 134.
73. Ibid., p. 134; Sister M. Evangeline Thomas, "The Rev. Louis Dumortier, S. J., Itinerant Missionary to Central Kansas, 1859-1867," Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 20 (November, 1952), p. 269.
74. Junction City Union, July 20, 1867.
75. Ibid., August 8, 1867.
76. Crawford, Kansas in the Sixties, p. 260.
77. Horace L. Moore, "The Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry," Kansas Historical Collections, v. 6 (1897-1900), p. .36.
78. Leavenworth Conservative, July 7, August 23, 1867.
79. Court-martial, PP. 210, 211. It is not plain in this tabulation how many men deserted the night of July 6 or on the 7th. The total for the two days was 34.
80. This episode is covered thoroughly by the testimony of witnesses in the court-martial record.- Court-martial, pp. 150-211. See, also, My Life, pp. 72, 73.
1. Custer's official report, August 6, 1867, of the march from the Platte to Fort Wallace. -- Court-martial, 174-177. While there is no supporting evidence that the troopers' ration was short and damaged, the officers' stores were probably exhausted. See report of Lieutenant Hale to Smith, June 27, 1867, Footnote 59.
82. My Life, pp. 75-78; Davis, "Slimmer on the Plains," p. 306.
83. George E. Hyde, Life of George Bent (Norman, 1967), p. 261.
84. George Bird Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyennes (New York, 1915), p. 261. "These all appeared to he Sioux."
85. Hyde, Life of George Bent, pp. 274, 275; Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyennes, p. 252.
86. Hyde, Life of George Bent, p. 276.
87. Bell, New Tracks, pp. 65-67.
88. Court-martial, p. 204, testimony of W. H. Cattrill at the court-martial. Also see Court of Claims, Indian Depredations; Wells Fargo vs. United States, 1867, for testimony of various stage employees.
89. Court-martial, pp. 198, 199, deposition of Major Elliott.
90. Keogh to Weir, July 8, 1867; Keogh to Cpt. W. G. Mitchell, July 16, 1867, "Letters Sent," Fort Wallace Records.
91. There is no actual proof that Custer did not find letters from his wife at Fort Wallace though his actions later support that belief. Mrs. Custer in Tenting, p. 701, states that he did find letters from her at Fort Hays and Fort Harker, implying that he had had none at Wallace.
92. Telegram, Smith to Custer, June 18, 1867, quoted in Court-martial, p. 51.
93. Court-martial, p. 199, deposition of Major Elliott, October 6, 1867.
94. Court-martial, p. 225. Custer's defense at his trial. General Augur in his dispatch of June 25, 1867 (Court-martial, p. 209), Wrote: "Gen. Myers is purchasing a hundred and fifty horses for you, how rapidly I cannot say."
95. My Life, pp. 79, 80.
96. "Epidemic Cholera," p. 52, Dr. Lippincott's report. This first cholera infection which appeared on July 22 was confined to the Seventh cavalry. Prompt measures were taken and Major Elliott was given great credit for his management of the command under this affliction. Keogh wrote on July 29, "supplies are coining in promptly. The medical and quartermaster stores have been received and in fact every thing needed is on hand. Everything we have we share with the 7th Cavalry. . . . The work on the Post progresses finely. . . . The stage company are getting their stock in again and propose soon to commence running regularly." On the 8th of August there arrived at Fort Wallace from New Mexico a battalion of the Fifth U. S. infantry under Cpt. Henry C. Bankhead to take over command of the post from Keogh. The day after it arrived the first case of cholera appeared in the Fifth infantry but since it was camped a mile above the post the garrison was not infected. There were 25 cases and 11 deaths, one of which was Mrs. Bankhead, the captain's wife. Mrs. Custer in Tenting, p. 696, mentions this second epidemic.
97. Court-martial, p. 117. Lieutenant Cook's testimony.
98. Captain Benteen at Fort Downer to General Gibbs at Fort hays, July 14, 1867.
99. Court-martial, p. 111, Captain Hamilton's testimony.
100. Court-martial, p. 118, Lieutenant Cook's testimony.
101. A. B. Carpenter to Smith, July 18, 1867. The Indians had driven off eight stage horses from Fort Downer on the 12th and 18 horses from Chalk Bluffs on the 14th.
102. Several persons gave testimony on this episode at the court-martial: Sgt. James Connelly, pp. 137-146; Captain Hamilton, pp. 111-113; Lieutenant Cook, p. 120; Cpt. Arthur Carpenter, pp. 135. Page references are to Court-martial.
103. Custer's official report of his expedition, August 6, 1867, in Court-martial, pp. 176, 177.
104. Court-martial, p. 231, Custer's own defense at his court-martial.
105. My Life, p. 82. The italics were added by this writer.
106. Carpenter to Smith, July 18, 1867, National Archives. See, also, Court Martial, pp. 134-136. In a letter to his parents from Downer's station, August 15, 1867, Carpenter wrote more fully about the incident: "He [Custer] came through here about the middle of last month on his way to Reilly, and stopped for dinner. While at dinner his rear guard was attacked about 8 miles west of here, and those who came in reported two killed. Custer remained unconcerned-finished his dinner, and moved on without saying a word to me about the bodies, or thinking of hunting the Indians. As soon as my wagons came in . . . I sent 10 men and one wagon to recover the bodies to prevent the wolves from eating them. They found one not killed but wounded, shot through the leg, the other was about a half a mile further on killed and scalped, and stripped of everything but his boots. . . . The wounded man . . . says that he would have died before morning if I had not sent out and brought him in." -- Western America in Documents, Catalogue 161, p. 41 (Edward Eberstadt & Sons, New York), quoted by permission.
107. Actually the table of distances introduced at the court-martial shows the distance between Big Creek and Fort Wallace to be 141 miles.- Court-martial, p. 147. The Big Creek stage station was down on the old trail about eight miles southwest of new Fort Hays.
108. The quotation is from Custer's defensive letter to the Sandusky (Ohio) Register, December 28, 1867, in which he writes principally in regard to the shooting of the deserters and barely mentions this march. In My Life, p. 82, Custer mentions several of his fast marches and Mrs. Custer repeats them in Tenting, pp. 700, 701.
109. These must have been the same ambulances that accompanied the expedition to the Platte as they were brought along with the Custer column from Fort Wallace. The wounded deserters were placed in an army wagon because the ambulances were unfit.
110. Court-martial, pp. 131-134, 223, testimony of Captain Cox, and Custer's comment on it.
111. Court-martial, pp. 126-128. The entire order is given in this text.
112. Cpt. Thomas B. Weir's testimony appears in Court-martial, pp. 128-130, and Custer's version of the meeting in the same text, pp. 225-227.
113. Court-martial, p. 150, Smith's testimony before the court-martial.
114. Smith to Hancock, July 28, 1867.
115. Telegram, W. G. Mitchell to Smith, July 22, 1867.
116. Court-martial, pp. 174-177. This general report dated August 6 was entered into the proceedings of the court-martial by the judge advocate. The report of August 7 concerned the Kidder massacre.
117. Ibid., pp. 99, 100.
118. Ibid., pp. 100-102.
119. Although Custer was found guilty of the charge no criminality was attached to the use of government mules and ambulances in his trip from hays to Harker. This charge probably had its genesis in an earlier order from General Grant concerning "extravagant" practices that had become prominent during the Civil War, two instances noted being the use of ambulances and mounted orderlies at all posts. -- See Report of the Secretary of War, 1867. The other specification of which Custer was declared guilty but to which no criminality was attached was that of denying immediate ate medical attention to the wounded deserters and putting them in a wagon.
120. J. Holt, "Review of the Trial of Gen. G. A. Custer," Records of the United States Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920, Judge Advocate General's Office, National Archives, Record Group 353.
121. Ibid.
122. The desertions suffered in the two months, April 19 - July 13 by the Custer command totaled 156. Ninety of these were from Hays in April and May. Custer started his marches with about 360 men and ended with 296. This does not include the 20 men who left the night after Custer arrived at Big Creek near Hays on July 18.- See Court-martial, pp. 210, 211.
123. With the approval or order of General Sheridan, Custer had executed several deserters during the Civil War, specifically one on January 6, 1865. -Court-martial,p. 210. He had also executed one after a court-martial in Louisiana, July 28, 1865. -- See Tenting, p. 105.
124. General Holt's "Review."
125. Leavenworth Conservative, January 4, 1868. 126. Ibid., January 8-10, 19, 1868. 127. Marguerite Merington, The Custer Story (New York, 1950), p. 212.
128. Sandusky (Ohio) Register, December 28, 1867. Sec Footnote 108. This letter was also printed in part in the New York Times, December 28, 1867, and in the Army and Navy Journal, January 4, 1868.
129. Court-martial of Cpt. Robert M. West, JAGO, NA. RG 353. The charges by General Custer, concerning incidents five or more months earlier, were ordered for trial on December 17. The court was convened on January 15 but was forced to wait to begin proceedings until January 20 as Custer and Cook were still in civil court on West's charges there.