Originally published in 1872
BY FANNY KELLY
Mr. Kelly’s sudden death, my own sickness, and the scourge of cholera, all coming at one time, proved disastrous to me in a pecuniary way. I was defrauded in every way, even to the robbing of my husband’s body of the sum of five hundred dollars the day of his death. However, I finally disposed of the remnant of property left, and started for Wyoming, where lived the only persons beside myself who survived the attack on our [wagon] train [by the Oglala Sioux in 1864, resulting in my captivity for several months]. They had prospered, and in a spirit of kindness, as I then thought, invited and prevailed on me to share their home.
It proved a most disastrous move for me. My leisure hours, since my release from captivity, had been devoted to preparing for publication, in book form, a narrative of my experience and adventures among the Indians, and it was completed. The manuscript was surreptitiously taken, and a garbled, imperfect account of my captivity issued as the experience of my false friend, who, by the aid of an Indian, escaped after a durance of only one day and night.
I remained in Wyoming one year, then started for Washington, resolved to present a claim to the Government for losses sustained at the hands of the Indians. I knew what difficulties beset my path, but duty to my child urged me on, and I was not without some hope of success.
After learning of my captivity through Captain Fisk, President Lincoln had issued orders to the different military commanders that my freedom from the Indians must be purchased at any price; and my sad story was well known to the then existing authorities when I arrived in Washington.
President Grant, learning through a friend from Colorado of my presence, sent for me, and assured me of his warmest sympathy. He was cognizant of what had already transpired relative to me, and told me the papers were on file in the War Department, in charge of General Sherman.
In presenting my claim, many difficulties had to be encountered; but members of Congress, realizing that some compensation was due me, and understanding the delay that would result from a direct application to the Indian Bureau, introduced a bill appropriating to me five thousand dollars for valuable services rendered the Government in saving Captain Fisk’s train from destruction, and by timely warning saving Fort Sully from pillage, and its garrison from being massacred. This was done without my having any knowledge of it until after the bill had passed both houses of Congress and become a law.
During my stay in Washington, Red Cloud, and a delegation of chiefs and head warriors from the different tribes of the Dakota or Sioux nation, arrived. They all recognized me as once having been with their people, and seemed quite rejoiced at the meeting.
Some of the good Christian people of the city extended to the Indians, through me, an invitation to attend church one Sabbath, which I made known to Red Cloud, telling him of the great organ, the fine music they would hear, and of the desire the good people had to benefit their souls.
Red Cloud replied with dignity that he did not have to go to the big house to talk to the Great Spirit; he could sit in his tipi or room, and the Great Spirit would listen. The Great Spirit was not where the big music was. No, he would not go. None of the Indians accepted the invitation; but some of the squaws went, escorted to the church in elegant carriages; but they soon left in disgust. The dazzling display of fine dresses, the beautiful church, and the “big music”—none of these had interest for them, if unaccompanied by a feast.
I attended several of the councils held with the Indians. At one of them, Red Cloud addressed Secretary Cox and Commissioner Parker in a lengthy speech on the subject of his grievances, in which he referred to me as follows. Pointing me out to the Secretary and Commissioner, he said:
“Look at that woman; she was captured by Silver Horn’s party. I wish you to pay her what her captors owe her. I am a man true to what I say, and want to keep my promise. I speak for all my nation. The Indians robbed that lady there, and through your influence I want her to be paid out of the first money due us.”
Placing his finger first upon the breast of the Secretary and then of the Commissioner, as if to add emphasis to what he was about to say, he added, “Pay her out of our money; do not give the money into any but her own hands; then the right one will get it.”
In one of my interviews with the chiefs, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, and others desired me to get up a paper setting forth my claims against their people, and they would sign it. I accordingly made out a bill of items and presented it to them, with my affidavit, and a statement setting forth the circumstances of capture and robbery, which was fully explained to them by their interpreter.
This document the chiefs representing the different bands signed readily. It is inserted elsewhere, with other documents corroborative of the truth of this narrative. It is also signed by another delegation of chiefs I met in New York.
With this last interview with the delegation of Indians I met in New York ends, I trust forever, my experience with Indians. The preparation of the manuscript for this plain, simple narrative of facts in my experience, has not been without its pangs. It has seemed, while writing it, as if with the narration of each incident, I was living over again the fearful life I led while a captive; and often have I laid aside the pen to get rid of the feelings which possessed me. But my task is completed; and with the ending of this chapter, I hope to lay aside forever all regretful remembrances of my captivity, and, looking only at the silvery lining to be found in every cloud, enjoy the happiness which every one may find in child-like trust in Him who ordereth all things well.
General Scully’s Expedition
During the summer of 1864, and while I was a prisoner with the Indians, an expedition, composed of Iowa and Minnesota volunteers, with a few independent companies of Nebraska and Dakota men, with one company of friendly Indians of various tribes, started from Fort Sully, in Dakota, with the double purpose, under instructions from the War Department, of escorting a large emigrant train safely through the Indian country on their way to Idaho, and, if possible, to inflict such punishment on the hostile bands they might meet as would make them willing to sue for peace.
The expedition was commanded by General Alfred Sully, of the United States Army, a brave, skillful officer, and veteran Indian fighter, having spent the best part of twenty-five years’ service on the frontier. He was a captain of infantry under General Harney, in his memorable campaign of 1857, and was present at the battle of Ash Hollow, where Harney surprised a large band of Indians, with their families, who were slaughtered indiscriminately, inflicting such punishment as made the name of General Harney a terror to the Indians, and, at the same time, brought upon his head the execration of thin-skinned philanthro-pists, who thought savages—the “noble red men” of their imagination—should be conquered only by a sugarplum and rose-water policy.
For many interesting particulars of this expedition, and its bearing upon some of the incidents of my captivity and final ransom, I am indebted to the correspondence of one who was a member of the expedition, written to his family during its progress.
The first day’s march carries the command to the Cheyenne River, where the topographical engineer, to whom I have referred, was killed. His fate was sad, indeed. An officer in the regular army, he served with distinction in the South during the rebellion, participating in over fifty battles, and passing through all without a wound. He was captured by the rebels, paroled, and sent to join General Sully’s expedition, to make a topographical survey of the country.
Having faced danger on many a well-contested field, he held the Indian in utter contempt, and roamed the country along the line of march with reckless indifference to danger.
A short time before reaching the place where the command intended to go into camp, Captain Fielner started in advance, accompanied by only one man, a half-breed. Beaching the river, they dismounted, and were about fastening their horses to graze near a grove of wild plum-trees, when two Indians stepped out, and one of them shot Captain Fielner, the ball from his rifle passing through both arms and the breast.
The advance guard arriving soon after, word was sent back to General Sully, who ordered the company of Dakota Cavalry to deploy and occupy so much of the country as to make it impossible for the Indians to escape. This was done, and, closing toward a center, the two savages were found in a “buffalo wallow,” a depression in the ground made by the buffalos, and forming a very good rifle-pit. Being addressed in their own language, they refused to surrender, and were shot. General Sully afterward had their heads cut off; and when the command left camp next morning, they graced two pointed stakes on the bank of the river, placed there as a warning to all straggling Indians. The feeling manifested by General Sully on the occasion of Captain Fielner’s death was intense. A brave officer, a scientific scholar, and a gentleman of rare social qualities, he had won upon the kindlier feelings of his associates in rank, and was respected by all. His untimely death was sincerely mourned by the whole command. Death by the hand of the enemy had seldom touched that little army—so seldom, that when a companion failed to answer at roll-call, his absence was felt.
The only other officer killed during the three years of General Sully’s operations against the Indians was Lieutenant Thomas K. Leavitt, of Company B, Sixth Iowa Cavalry. At the battle of Whitestone Hill, in September, 1863, after the Indians had been utterly routed, Lieutenant Leavitt went through their deserted camp on foot, his horse having been shot under him; and, approaching a buffalo robe, raised it with the point of his saber, revealing an Indian and squaw, who sprang upon him so suddenly that he had no opportunity to defend himself, and, with their knives, stabbed him in several places. Darkness came on, and, separated from his companions, stripped of his clothing, and wounded mortally, he was all night exposed to bitter cold. Despite his wounds, he crawled over the ground fully a half mile, was found next morning, and conveyed to camp, where he died soon after. A young man of superior education, of a wealthy family, he relinquished a lucrative position in a bank, and enlisted as a private, but was soon promoted to a lieutenancy; and, at the time of his death, was acting Adjutant-General on General Sully’s staff.
The emigrant train to be escorted by General Sully’s command came across from Minnesota, and were met at a point on the Missouri River about four hundred miles above Sioux City. Here the whole party crossed to the west bank of the Missouri, where they went into camp, and remained long enough to recruit their jaded animals, preparatory to a long and fatiguing march into an almost unknown wilderness, jealously guarded by a savage foe.
During this halt, Fort Rice, now one of the most important fortifications on the Missouri River, was built, and, when the march was resumed, a considerable portion of the command was left to garrison it.
Here, also, General Sully learned that all the tribes of the Sioux nation had congregated in the vicinity of Knife River, determined to resist his passage through their country, and confident that superior numbers would enable them to annihilate the whole expedition, and gain a rich booty in horses and goods, to say nothing of the hundreds of scalp-locks they hoped to win as trophies of their prowess.
About the middle of July the expedition took up its march westward, and after a few days reached Heart River.
Meantime, information had been received, from Indians employed as scouts, that the enemy had gathered in strong force at a place called Ta-ka-a-ku-ta, or Deer Woods, about eighty miles to the north-west, and that distance out of the proposed route of the expedition. Accordingly, General Sully ordered the emigrant train and heavy army wagons corralled, riflepits were dug, and, as the emigrants were generally well armed, it was deemed necessary to leave only a small force of cavalry to protect them in case of attack.
Putting the balance of the command in light marching order, leaving behind tents and all other articles not absolutely necessary, the little band of determined men started for the camp of the enemy. Although the Indians were aware of the contemplated attack, such was the celerity of General Sully’s movements, he came within sight of their camp at least twenty-four hours sooner than they thought it possible the distance could be accomplished, taking the Indians by surprise, they not having time, as is their custom, to remove their property and women and children beyond the reach of danger. I was present with this body of Indians when the white soldiers—my countrymen—came in sight. Alternating between hope and fear, my feelings can be better imagined than described. I hoped for deliverance, yet feared disaster and death to that little army. At 1 o’clock in the afternoon the fight commenced, and raged, with great fury, until night closed on the scene of conflict, leaving the whites masters of the field and in possession of the Indian camp. Early in the day, I, with the women and children and old men, and such property as could be gathered in our hasty flight, was sent off so as to be out of the way, not to impede the flight of the Indians in case of defeat. This was a terrible blow to the Indians. About eight thousand of them were gathered there, and their village, with all their property (except their horses and dogs), including all the stores of provisions they had gathered for the winter, were lost. Without shelter, without food, driven into a barren, desolate region, devoid of game, death from starvation seemed inevitable.
Early next morning pursuit was commenced, but after a march of about five miles was abandoned, as the country beyond was impassable for cavalry. Returning to the scene of the previous day’s battle, General Sully spent several hours in destroying the property abandoned by the Indians in their flight. Lodge poles were piled together and fired, and into the flames was cast furs, robes, tents, provisions, and every thing that fell into the hands of the soldiers.
That night the command camped about six miles from, but within sight of, the battle-ground, going into camp early in the afternoon. Picket guards were stationed on the hills, three at a post, and soon after the camp was thrown into commotion by the appearance of one of the guard dashing toward camp, at the full speed of his horse, with Indians in pursuit. His companions, worn out with the arduous service of the preceding three days, had laid down to sleep, and before the one remaining on guard could give the alarm, a body of Indians was close upon them. Discharging his rifle to arouse his companions, he had barely time to reach his horse and escape. The bodies of the other two were found next day horribly mutilated; and that night, being within sight of the battleground, the firelight revealed the forms of a large body of savages dancing around the burning ruins of their own homes.
Returning to Heart River, General Sully took the emigrants again in charge, and resumed the march toward Idaho. Traversing a country diversified and beautiful as the sun ever shone upon, presenting at every turn pictures of natural beauty, such as no artist ever represented on canvas, the expedition at last struck the “Mauvais Terra,” or Bad Lands, a region of the most wildly desolate country conceivable. No pen of writer, nor brush of painter, can give the faintest idea of its awful desolation.
As the command halted upon the confines of this desert, the mind naturally reverted to political descriptions of the infernal regions reached in other days. The Bad Lands of Dakota extend from the confluence of the Yellow Stone and Missouri Rivers toward the south-west, a distance of about one hundred miles, and are from twenty-five to forty miles in width. The foot of white man had never trod these wilds before. The first day’s march into this desert carried the expedition ten miles only, consuming ten hours of time, and leaving the forces four miles from, and within sight of, the camp, they left in the morning.
On the 7th of August, the advance guard were attacked in the afternoon by a large party of Indians. After a toilsome march of many days, a valley in the wilderness was reached, presenting an opportunity for rest, and here the first vegetation was found for the famished horses. In this valley the troops camped; the advance guard were brought back, having suffered some from the attack of the ambushed savages.
Next day commenced one of the most memorable battles ever fought with Indians in the whole experience of the Government. The whole Dakota nation, including the supposed friendly tribes, was concentrated there, and numbered fully eight thousand warriors. Opposed to them was a mere handful, comparatively, of white men. But they were led by one skilled in war, and who knew the foe he had to contend against.
For three days the fight raged, and, finally, on the night of the third day, and after a toilsome march of ten days through the “Bad Lands,” the command reached a broad, open country, where the savages made a final, desperate stand to drive the invaders back. They were the wild Dakotians, who had seen but little of the white settlements, and had a contemptuous opinion. But a new lesson was to be learned, and it cost them dearly. They had seen guns large and small, but the little mountain howitzers, from which shells were sent among them, they could not comprehend, and asked the Indian scouts accompanying the expedition if all the wagons “shot twice.”
Terrible punishment was inflicted upon the Indians in that three days’ fight. At the close of the second day, the brigade wagon-master reported that he had discovered the tracks of a white woman, and believed the Indians held one captive. This was the first intimation General Sully received of my captivity, and, not having received from the western posts any report of captures by Indians, thought it must be some half-breed woman who wore the foot gear of civilization. But the sympathetic nature of that brave, noble General was stirred to its depths, when his Indian scouts brought in the report that they had talked with the hostile foe, and they had tauntingly said, “we have a white woman captive.”
The Indians were badly whipped, and having accomplished that portion of his mission, General Sully went on with his emigrant train to the Yellow Stone River, and beyond that there were long, toilsome marches, but no battles.
Early in October the command arrived opposite Fort Rice, and went into camp. The tents of the little band of white warriors were hardly pitched before word came that Captain Fisk, with a large party of emigrants and a small escort of soldiers, had been attacked by a large party of Indians; had corralled their train, and could not move, but were on the defensive, and were confident of holding out until relief should come. They were distant about one hundred and eighty miles, and the sympathetic nature of the veteran, while it condemned the action of his junior officer, thrilled with an earnest desire to save the women and children of that apparently doomed train.
A detail of men from each company of the command was made, and Captain Fisk and his train of emigrants rescued from their perilous situation. Here was received proof positive of the fact that a white woman was held captive by the Indians; and while every man would have been willing to risk his life for her rescue, and many applications were made to the General for permission to go out on expeditions for that purpose, he had already adopted such measures as must secure her release.
Friendly Indians who had accompanied the expedition were sent out to visit the various tribes, to assure them of an earnest desire on the part of the whites for peace, and invite them to meet at Fort Sully to make a treaty. The result was that about the latter part of October the vicinity of the fort presented an unusual appearance of animation. Several bands had come in, in anticipation of the big feast that had hitherto preceded all talks. Their disappointment may be imagined when they were told that no talk would be had, nor any feast given, until they brought in the white woman.
Their protestations, that she was not their captive, and that they could not get her from the band who held her, were of no avail, and, at length, Tall Soldier, who was thought to be friendly, called for volunteers to go with him for the white woman. About one hundred Indians responded, and the assurance was given that they would get the captive, if even at the expense of a fight with those they went to take her from.
Weeks of painful suspense passed, and then came a letter from the captive woman, brought by an Indian, in which warning was given of an intent to capture the fort and murder the garrison. The warning was acted upon; and when, on the 12th day of December, a large body of Indians appeared on the bluffs overlooking the fort, that little band of not more than two hundred men was prepared to give them a warm reception should they come with hostile intent. Not only were arms in prime condition, but every heart beat with high resolve. When the cavalcade drew up in front of the fort, and the captive woman, with about twelve of her immediate savage attendants, had passed through the gates, they were ordered closed, shutting out the main body, and leaving them exposed to a raking fire from the guns in the bastions.
But no attack was made. The Indians seemed to know that the little band of soldiers were prepared, and went quietly into camp, on an island opposite the fort. Next day a council was held, and the terms of the captives surrender agreed upon. Three unserviceable horses, to replace ponies left with the Ogalallas by the Blackfeet, as a pledge for the captives return; also, fifty dollars worth of presents, some provisions, and a promise of a treaty when General Sully should return.
The Indians remained about the fort nearly two weeks, and during that time efforts were made to induce the captive woman to leave the fort and visit them at their lodges, doubtless with the design of recap-turing her. After making the captive some presents, they bade adieu. Two months later they returned, apparently very much disappointed when they found the captive had left for her home. They were soon again upon the war path.