During the year preceding the period whereof I write, and in fact from the time of the discovery of the Salmon River mines, nearly every train or single company of emigrants going in that direction was attacked, robbed, the animals belonging to it stolen, and frequently many of the persons composing it slain, by predatory bands of Bannack Indians, which tribe possessed the entire country for a distance of five hundred miles north of Salt Lake. Their rapacity and cruelty had become the great terror of a journey otherwise full of difficulty and discouragement. So frequent and terrible had been this warfare, that nearly all communication between the distant mines and Salt Lake was suspended; yet the wretches who conducted it, conscious of their superior power, hesitated not, meantime, to visit the settlements, and maintain an apparent friendliness towards the people. Several attacks had been made upon them by detachments of troops from Camp Douglas, attended with more or less success, but none of them had the effect to allay their murderous depredations. Success had made them defiant as well as bloodthirsty, and long impunity begot in them the belief that they were invincible.
When the winter began to close in, rich in the spoils of their bloody forays, a large band of nearly three hundred Bannacks, under their chiefs, Sand Pitch, Sag Witch, and Bear Hunter, established quarters for the cold months in a ravine on the west bank of Bear River, about four days' march distant from the federal camp. Gen. P. Edward Connor, the officer in command at Camp Douglas, had carefully watched their movements with the intention of inflicting the severest punishment upon them for the enormities they had committed. The example to be salutary, must be terrible, and Connor contemplated nothing less than the destruction of the entire band. It was a measure of safety. Many thousand people in the States and Territories were engaged in active preparation to make the journey to the northern mines, on the return of warm weather, and the lives and property of many of them depended, as General Connor knew, upon the success of his contemplated expedition.
The Indians selected their camp because of the protection it afforded from the inclemencies of the weather. The general southwest course of the river was, by a bend, changed so as to be nearly due west where it passed their encampment. The nook or ravine, open on the bank, stretched tortuously between high precipitous banks, north from the river several hundred yards, until lost in the abrupt ascent of a lofty overhanging mountain. Clumps of willows grew irregularly over the surface of the little dell, amid which the Indians pitched their buffalo tents, and fastened their ponies for better protection against wind and snow. Their women and children were with them, and all the conveniences and comforts known to savage life were clustered around them.
Perceiving soon after they took possession of the spot, that it united with its other advantages admirable means of defence against an approaching enemy, they went to work, and improved by excavation and otherwise, every assailable point, until satisfied that it was perfectly impregnable.
During the occasional visits of their chiefs and head men to the settlements, they had learned and came to believe, that an attack of some kind would be made upon them before spring. They relished the idea as a good joke, and with more than customary bravado declared their readiness to meet it boldly challenging the whites to come on.
The winter sped on. Colder than usual even in these high latitudes, both Indians and whites felt that if nothing else would prevent an attack, the cold weather was sufficient. General Connor kept his own counsel, but matured his plans with consummate skill. The citizens of Salt Lake, seeing no military preparations in progress, grew restive under the delay, charged the garrison with neglect of duty, and finally appealed to the civil authorities. In the later days of January, when General Connor's plans were approaching maturity, Chief Justice Kinney issued warrants for the arrest of Sand Pitch, Sag Witch, and Bear Hunter, for murders committed by them on emigrants passing through the Territory. The officer directed to serve these writs, on one of the coldest days of the middle of January, applied to General Connor, at Camp Douglas, for an escort.
"I have an expedition against the Indians in contemplation," said the general, "which will march soon. You can go under its escort; but as I do not intend to take any prisoners, I cannot tell you whether you will be able to serve your writ or not. My opinion is you will find it difficult."
Whether the intimation conveyed in this closing remark touched the official pride of the marshal, or not, I cannot say. Certain it is that he concluded at once to accompany the expedition and arrest the accused chiefs.
The Indians were on the watch for an attack, and had their runners out with instructions to bring them the earliest information of an approaching foe. On the morning of the 22d, Captain Samuel N. Hoyt, with forty men of Company K of Infantry, two howitzers, and a train of fifteen baggage wagons, left Camp Douglas with secret orders to march leisurely in the direction of the Indian encampment. The Indian spies under promise of secrecy, were told by some who assumed to know, that this was the army sent to exterminate the Indians. They carried the intelligence to the Indians, where it excited great derision. The little company marched very slowly, making their roads through the snows of the divides, and were careful to afford the Indian scouts full opportunity to learn their strength and armament. The chiefs unconcernedly gave orders to their warriors to prepare for a warm reception of the foe, while they visited the settlements. On the morning of the sixth day's march, Captain Hoyt and his men reached the vicinity of the present town of Franklin, within a few hours' march of the Indian stronghold. Bear Hunter, who was there at the time, seeing how few men were in number, left immediately in high glee, at the prospect of cutting them off the next day.
At midnight that night, after a ride of four nights, one of sixty miles, the others of easier marches, through deep snows and a piercing, bitter wind that nearly disabled a third of the company, Major McGarry, at the head of two hundred cavalry accompanied by General Connor and his aides, rode into the little camp, and bivouacked with the infantry. The Indians knew nothing of this arrival. So far the plan for their destruction was successful. The troops slept on their arms. Orders were given to the infantry to march an hour after midnight. They were obliged to break their road through the snow, which completely covered the entire region to the depth of one or two feet. The heavy howitzers were dragged through it, over the unequal surface, with great difficulty, and for the purpose of concealment, kept in the rear. Several hours after the infantry started, the cavalry dashed by them and drew up on the south bank of Bear River before the dawn broke over the Indian camp. The savages were prepared for the attack. The ravine rang with their fearful and defiant howling.
The passage of the river was very difficult. Covered at the bottom to the depth of a foot or more with anchor-ice, its rapid current, too strong for congealment at its surface, was filled with floating masses of ice, whose sharp edges and great weight threatened disaster to every horse which ventured the treacherous passage. But there was no alternative. The troops who had dismounted to load their pistols, now remounted their horses, and led by Majors McGarry and Gallagher, by slow, tedious, and careful effort, succeeded in reaching the northern bank in safety. Before the passage was completed, however, the companies of Captain Price and Lieutenant Chase, which were the first to land, had drawn up in line of battle. Captain McLean and Lieutenant Quinn, with their commands, had barely joined them, when the Indians opened the fight with a shower of balls, wounding one of the men.
General Connor had instructed McGarry to surround the ravine, and was himself at this moment awaiting the arrival of the infantry on the south side of the river. He had not anticipated so early a commencement of the fight, but leaving his orders to be given by his aide, he hastily crossed the river and joined McGarry. That officer finding it impossible with the two companies at his disposal to outflank the Indians, ordered them to advance as skirmishers. Up to this time the Indians had been tantalizing our troops by their appearance upon the benches over which it was necessary to pass, before an attack could be made from the east on their stronghold. At the approach of the skirmishing party they retreated under cover of the precipitous bank, where, entirely protected from our guns, they opened a galling and deadly fire, killing and wounding several of Connor's men. The General ordered his men to protect themselves as much as possible, and sent McGarry forward with a detachment to scale the mountain which enclosed the ravine on the north, and outflank the Indians on the left, while the companies on the benches attacked them in front.
At this stage of the fight, the most disastrous to our troops, Captain Hoyt arrived with the infantry on the south bank of the river. He had heard the firing at a distance, and hurried forward his men, who in their eagerness for the fray, attempted to ford the river, but found it impossible. Wet and chilled they crossed the river on cavalry horses sent from the north side, and galloped up to the battle, just in time to enable McGarry, with their assistance, to complete his flanking movement. Captain Hoyt now came up with a portion of his men on the west side of the ravine extending the cordon so as to form about three-fourths of a circle, embracing three sides of the Indian camp. The fight now became very brisk. By the enfilading fire from the east, west and north sides of the ravine, the Indians were gradually driven to the center and south. Their stronghold proved a complete cul de sac, and they were completely at the mercy of the troops.
Taken at this great disadvantage, and seeing their chiefs and head men falling around them, they fought with desperate bravery, moving slowly toward the mouth of the ravine on the west side of which General Connor had stationed a detachment of cavalry to cut off their retreat. The great slaughter occasioned by the incessant fire of the troops, at length broke the Indians' line. Each man sought how best to save himself. Many of them ran in the most disorderly manner to the mouth of the ravine, where they fell in heaps before the deadly fire of the rifles. Some attempted to cross the river, but did not live to effect it. Others crawled into the willow clumps with the hope of escaping notice, but the troops were ordered to scour the bushes, and dislodge them. Many of these latter disclosed their places of concealment, by firing from them upon the troops, as if resolved to sell their lives as dearly as possible. The last Indian foe waited his opportunity. While Major Gallagher was leading a detachment into a thicket, the savage fired upon him. The ball passed through his left arm into his side. Again the Indian fired, and a cavalryman fell from his horse beside General Connor. The flash of his rifle revealed his hiding-place, and a volley from the detachment ended the bloody contest.
The details I have here given of this battle, while they sufficiently demonstrate the skill and bravery of the officers and men by whom it was fought, would be wanting in justice to them did I fail to mention other incidental facts connected with it, which entitle them to addition claims upon our gratitude and admiration. Few people who have never experienced a winter in the Rocky Mountains know how to appreciate the elemental difficulties attending the march of such an expedition as this one of General Connor's. The sudden storms, the deep snows, the trackless wastes, the rapid, half-frozen mountain torrents, the lofty divides, the keen blasts, and the pinching nights, coupled with all the unavoidable demands which must encumber the movements of troops and artillery through a country that for most of the distance is entirely desolate, should give this expedition a conspicuous place among the remarkable events of our country's history. Seventy-four of the number engaged in it had their feet frozen by exposure. The night rides of the cavalry to overtake the infantry would furnish as thrilling a theme for song as any of the rides during our National struggle, which have been thus immortalized. The transporation of munitions, camp equipage and heavy artillery, through eighty miles of snow, which for most of the distance was unmarked by a road, over mountains, through canyons, and across unbridged streams, furnishes a chapter that can find no parallel in our former military experience. I mention them, that my readers may form some idea of the amount of labor and care necessary to carry such an enterprise through with success, and give the proper credit to those who accomplished it.
Through the kindness of General Connor I am enabled to give the names and rank of those who were killed and wounded. All the officers and men fought with great bravery. General Connor himself, during the entire four hours the battle was in progress, was always in the thickest of it, and seldom out of range of the deadly rifles of the Indians. The historian of the battle says,-
"General Connor exhibited high qualities of command, and his perfect coolness and bravery are the universal theme of praise. Possibly some might have been better pleased with less exposure of their commander, but I have the best authority for saying it was the call of duty, and not indifference." The object of the fight was fully accomplished. Two hundred and sixty-seven Indians were killed, several of their leading chiefs among the number. Not fifteen escaped to tell the story of the battle.
This victory removed at once and forever the greatest impediment in the way of emigration to the new Territory and a safe exit from it for those who wished to return to their homes in the States. Previous to it people could not, with safety, pass in either direction except in large and strongly armed companies; and with certain exposure to the Indians on the one hand, and the robbers and brigands on the other, with no other possible outlet for escape except by crossing the Territory to Fort Benton or over the Coeur D'Alene Mountains to Walla Walla, both very uncertain and dangerous routes, the inhabitants of the Territory were completely at the mercy of their assailants. No more fortunate event could have occurred at the time, than this successful extermination of a dangerous foe.
The lesson this battle taught the Bannacks, has never been forgotten. The instance of an attack by other bands upon the emigrants, has never been known since that day. It so reduced their tribe in number, that they have ever since been a broken and dispirited people. They are the vagrants of the mountains; as remarkable for their pusillanimity, as, in the days of Bonneville, they were for their bravery, and the commanding position they held among the mountain tribes.
The following is a list of the killed and wounded in the fight: -
SECOND CAVALRY, COMPANY "A."
Killed -Privates, James W. Baldwin, George German.
Wounded -Lieut. D.J. Berry; Privates, John W. Wall, James S. Montgomery, John Welsh, William H. Lake, William Jay.
Frozen -Corporal Adolph Sprague; Privates, John D. Marker, J. Kearney, Samuel L'Hommidieu, R. McNulty, G. Swan.
Killed -Privates, John K. Brims, Charles L. Hallowell.
Wounded -Capt. Daniel McLean, Sergeant James Cantillon;* Corporals, Phillip Schaub and Patrick Frauley; Privates, Michael O'Brien,* H.L.
Fisher, John Franklin, Hugh Connor, Joseph Glows, Thompson Ridge, James Logan, Bartele C. Hutchinson, Frank Farley." Frozen -Sixteen names not obtained.
Killed -Privates, Lewis Anderson, Christian Smith, Shelbourne C.
Reed, Adolphus Rowe, Henry W. Trempf.
Wounded -Lieut. Darwin Chase," Sergeant Sylvanus S. Longley, Corporal Benjamin Landis; Privates, William Slocum,* Albert N. Parker, John S. Lee, Walter B. Welton, Nath'1 Kinsley, Patrick H. Kelly, Eugene J. Brady, Silas C. Bush, John Daly, Robert Hargrave, Morris Illig, Alonzo A.P.V. McCoy.
Frozen -Sergeant Wm. L. Beach; Corporals, Wm. L. White and James R. Hunt; Privates, Strider Ausby, Matthew Almone, David Bristow, Fred W. Becket, Nath'1 Chapan, Sam'1 Caldwell, Joseph Chapman, John G. Hertie, Chas. B. Howe, Joseph Hill, George Johnston, Jefferson Lincoln, Arthur Mitchell, James McKown, Alonzo R. Palmer, Charles Wilson.
Killed -Wagoner, Asa F. Howard; Privates, Geo. C. Cox, Geo. W. Horton, Wm. Davis.
Wounded -Sergeants, Anthony Stevens" and Lorin Robbins, Corporal L.W. Hughes; Privates, W.I-I. Wood, L.D. Hughes, J. Legit, E.C. Chase, F.
Barcafer, R. Miller, M. Forbes, John Stevens, P. Humbert; Bugler, A.
Frozen -Sergeant John Cullen; Corporals, A.P. Hewitt and Wm. Steel; Privates, W.W. Collins, James Dyer, John McGonagle, A.G. Case.
THIRD INFANTRY, COMPANY "K."
Kilied -Privates, John E. Baker, Samuel W. Thomas.
Wounded -Major P.A. Gallagher; Sergeants, A.J. Austin and E.C. Hoyt; Privates, John Hensley, Thomas B. Walker.
Frozen -Sergeants, C.J. Herron and C.F. Williams; Corporals, Wm.
Bennet, John Lattman, and John Wingate; Privates, Joseph German, James Urquhart, Wm. St. John, Algeray Ramsdell, James Epperson, A.J.T. Randali, Wm. Farnham, John Baurland, Giles Ticknor, Alfred Pensho, B.B.
Bigelow, J. Anderson, F.Bacralso, F. Branch, A.L. Bailey, Wm. Carlton, D.
Donahue, C.H. Godbold, J. Haywood, C. Heath, J. Manning, Wm. Way.
*Died of wounds RECAPITULATION
|2nd Cavalry Co. A.||2||6||6||14|
|2nd Cavalry Co. H.||2||14||16||32|
|2nd Cavalry Co. K||5||15||19||39|
|2nd Cavalry Co M||4||13||7||24|
|3rd Infantry Co K||2||5||27||34|