- Inspecting Military posts in Utah and Montana -- desire to witness the Franco-German war -- on a Sand -- Bar in the Missouri -- a Bear hunt -- an Indian scare -- myriads of mosquitoes -- permission given to visit Europe -- calling on President Grant -- Sailing for Liverpool -- arrival in Berlin.
After I had for a year been commanding the Division of the Missouri, which embraced the entire Rocky Mountain region, I found it necessary to make an inspection of the military posts in northern Utah and Montana, in order by personal observation to inform myself of their location and needs, and at the same time become acquainted with the salient geographical and topographical features of that section of my division. Therefore in May, 1870, I started west by the UnionPacific railroad, and on arriving at Corinne Station, the next beyond Ogden, took passage by stage-coach for Helena, the capital of Montana Territory. Helena is nearly five hundred miles north of Corinne, and under ordinary conditions the journey was, in those days, a most tiresome one. As the stage kept jogging on day and night, there was little chance for sleep, and there being with me a sufficient number of staffofficers to justify the proceeding, we chartered the “outfit,” stipulating that we were to stop over one night on the road to get some rest. This rendered the journey more tolerable, and we arrived at Helena without extraordinary fatigue. Before I left Chicago the newspapers were filled with rumors of impending war between Germany and France. I was anxious to observe the conflict, if it was to occur, but reports made one day concerning the beginning of hostilities would be contradicted the next, and it was not till I reached Helena that the despatches lost their doubtful character, and later became of so positive a nature as to make it certain that the two nations would fight. I therefore decided to cut short my tour  of inspection, so that I could go abroad to witness the war, if the President would approve. This resolution limited my stay in Helena to a couple of days, which were devoted to arranging for an exploration of what are now known as the Upper and the Lower Geyser Basins of the Yellowstone Park. While journeying between Corinne and Helena I had gained some vague knowledge of these geysers from an old mountaineer named Atkinson, but his information was very indefinite, mostly secondhand; and there was such general uncertainty as to the character of this wonderland that I authorized an escort of soldiers to go that season from Fort Ellis with a small party, to make such superficial explorations as to justify my sending an engineer officer with a well-equipped expedition there next summer to scientifically examine and report upon the strange country. When the arrangements for this preliminary expedition were completed I started for Fort Benton, the head of navigation on the Missouri River, on the way passing through Fort Shaw, on Sun River. I expected to take at Benton a steamboat to Fort Stevenson, a military post which had been established about eighty miles south of Fort Buford, near a settlement of friendly Mandan and Arickaree Indians, to protect them from the hostile Sioux. From there I was to make my way overland, first to Fort Totten near Devil's lake in Dakota, and thence by way of Fort Abercrombie to Saint Cloud, Minnesota, the terminus of the railroad. Luckily I met with no delay in getting a boat at Benton, and though the water was extremely low, we steamed down the channel of the Missouri with but slight detention till we got within fifty miles of Fort Buford. Here we struck on a sand-bar with such force of steam and current as to land us almost out of the water from stem to midships. This bad luck was tantalizing, for to land on a bar when your boat is under full headway down-stream in the Missouri River is no trifling matter, especially if you want to make time, for the rapid and turbid stream quickly depositing sand under the hull, makes it commonly a task of several days to get your boat off again. As from our mishap the loss of much time was inevitable, I sent a messenger to Fort Buford for a small escort, and for horses to take my party in to the post. Colonel Morrow, the commandant, came himself to meet us, bringing a strong party of soldiers and some friendly Indian scouts, because, he said, there were then in the region around Buford so many treacherous band of Sioux as to make things exceedingly unsafe. Desiring to reach the post without spending more than one night on the way, we abandoned our steamer that evening, and set off at an early hour the next morning. We made camp at the end of the day's march within ten miles of Buford, and arrived at the post without having  had any incident of moment, unless we may dignify as one a battle with three grizzly bears, discovered by our friendly Indians the morning of our second day's journey. While eating our breakfast — a rather slim one, by the way-spread on a piece of canvas, the Indians, whose bivouac was some distance off, began shouting excitedly, “Bear! Bear!” and started us all up in time to see, out on the plain some hundreds of yards away, an enormous grizzly and two almost full-grown cubs. Chances like this for a bear hunt seldom offered, so there was hurried mounting — the horses being already saddled-and a quick advance made on the game from many directions, Lieutenant Townsend, of the escort, and five or six of the Indians going with me. Alarmed by the commotion, bruin and her cubs turned about, and with an awkward yet rapid gait headed for a deep ravine, in which there was brushwood shelter. My party rode directly across the prairie and struck the trail not far behind the game. Then for a mile or more the chase was kept up, but with such poor shooting because of the “buck fever” which had seized most of us, that we failed to bring down any of the grizzlies, though the cubs grew so tired that the mother was often obliged to halt for their defense, meanwhile urging them on before her. When the ravine was gained she hid the cubs away in the thick brushwood, and then coming out where we could plainly see her, stood on the defense just within the edge of the thicket, beyond the range of our rifles though, unless we went down into the cation, which we would have to do on foot, since the precipitous wall precluded going on horseback. For an adventure like this I confess I had little inclination, and on holding a council of war, I found that the Indians had still less, but Lieutenant Townsend, who was a fine shot, and had refrained from firing hitherto in the hope that I might bag the game, relieved the embarrassing situation and saved the credit of the party by going down alone to attack the enemy. Meanwhile I magnanimously held his horse, and the Sioux braves did a deal of shouting, which they seemed to think of great assistance. Townsend, having descended to the bottom of the ravine, approached within range, when the old bear struck out, dashing into and out of the bushes so rapidly, however, that he could not get fair aim at her, but the startled cubs running into full view, he killed one at the first shot and at the second wounded the other. This terribly enraged the mother, and she now came boldly out to fight, exposing herself in the open ground so much as to permit a shot, that brought her down too, with a broken shoulder. Then the Indians and I, growing very brave, scrambled down to take part in the fight. It was left for me to despatch the wounded cub and mother, and having recovered possession of my  nerves, I did the work effectively, and we carried off with us the skins of the three animals as trophies of the hunt and evidence of our prowess. As good luck would have it, when we reached Buford we found a steamboat there unloading stores, and learned that it would be ready to start down the river the next day. Embarking on her, we got to Stevenson in a few hours, and finding at the post camp equipage that had been made ready for our use in crossing overland to Fort Totten, we set out the following forenoon, taking with us a small escort of infantry, transported in two light wagons, a couple of Mandans and the post interpreter going along as mounted guides. To reach water we had to march the first day to a small lake forty miles off, and the oppressive heat, together with the long distance traveled, used up one of the teams so much that, when about to start out the second morning, we found the animals unable to go on with any prospect of finishing the trip, so I ordered them to be rested forty-eight hours longer, and then taken back to Stevenson. This diminished the escort by one-half, yet by keeping the Indians and interpreter on the lookout, and seeing that our ambulance was kept closed up on the wagon carrying the rest of the detachment, we could, I thought, stand off any ordinary party of hostile Indians. About noon I observed that the scouts in advance had left the trail and begun to reconnoitre a low ridge to their right, the sequel of which was that in a few minutes they returned to the wagons on a dead run and reported Sioux just ahead. Looking in the direction indicated, I could dimly see five or six horsemen riding in a circle, as Indians do when giving warning to their camp, but as our halt disclosed that we were aware of their proximity, they darted back again behind the crest of the ridge. Anticipating from this move an immediate attack, we hastily prepared for it by unhooking the mules from the wagon and ambulance, so that we could use the vehicles as a barricade. This done, I told the interpreter to take the Mandan scouts and go over toward the ridge and reconnoitre again. As the scouts neared the crest two of them dismounted, and, crawling slowly on their bellies to the summit, took a hasty look and returned at once to their horses, coming back with word that in the valley beyond was a camp of at least a hundred Sioux lodges, and that the Indians were hurriedly getting ready to attack us. The news was anything but cheering, for with a village of that size the warriors would number two or three hundred, and could assail us from every side. Still, nothing could be done but stand and take what was to come, for there was no chance of escape — it being supreme folly to undertake  in wagons a race with Indians to Fort Stevenson, sixty miles away. To make the best of the situation, we unloaded the baggage, distributing and adjusting the trunks, rolls of bedding, crackerboxes, and everything else that would stop a bullet, in such manner as to form a square barricade, two sides of which were the wagons, with the mules haltered to the wheels. Every man then supplied himself with all the ammunition he could carry, and the Mandan scouts setting up the depressing wail of the Indian death-song, we all awaited the attack with the courage of despair. But no attack came; and time slipping by, and we still unmolested, the interpreter and scouts were sent out to make another reconnoissance. Going through just such precautions as before in approaching the ridge, their slow progress kept us in painful suspense; but when they got to the crest the strain on our nerves was relieved by seeing them first stand up boldly at full height, and then descend beyond. Quickly returning, they brought welcome word that the whole thing was a mistake, and no Sioux were there at all. What had been taken for a hundred Indian lodges turned out to be the camp of a Government train on its way to Fort Stevenson, and the officer in charge seeing the scouts before they discovered him, and believing them to be Sioux, had sent out to bring his herds in. It would be hard to exaggerate the relief that this discovery gave us, and we all breathed much easier. The scare was a bad one, and I have no hesitation in saying that, had we been mounted, it is more than likely that, instead of showing fight, we would have taken up a lively pace for Fort Stevenson. After reciprocal explanations with the officer in charge of the train, the march was resumed, and at the close of that day we camped near a small lake about twenty miles from Fort Totten. From Totten we journeyed on to Fort Abercrombie. The country between the two posts is low and flat, and I verily believe was then the favorite abiding-place of the mosquito, no matter where he most loves to dwell now; for myriads of the pests rose up out of the tall rank grass — more than I ever saw before or since-and viciously attacked both men and animals. We ourselves were somewhat protected by gloves and head-nets, provided us before leaving Totten, but notwithstanding these our sufferings were wellnigh intolerable; the annoyance that the poor mules experienced must, therefore, have been extreme; indeed, they were so terribly stung that the blood fairly trickled down their sides. Unluckily, we had to camp for one night in this region; but we partly evaded the ravenous things by banking up our tent walls with earth, and then, before turning in, sweeping and smoking out such as had got inside. Yet with all this there seemed hundreds left to sing and sting throughout the night. The mules  being without protection, we tried hard to save them from the vicious insects by creating a dense smoke from a circle of smothered fires, within which chain the grateful brutes gladly stood; but this relief was only partial, so the moment there was light enough to enable us to hook up we pulled out for Abercrombie in hot haste. From Abercrombie we drove on to Saint Cloud, the terminus of the railroad, where, considerably the worse for our hurried trip and truly wretched experience with the mosquitoes, we boarded the welcome cars. Two days later we arrived in Chicago, and having meanwhile received word from General Sherman that there would be no objection to my going to Europe, I began making arrangements to leave, securing passage by the steamship Scotia. President Grant invited me to come to see him at Long Branch before I should sail, and during my brief visit there he asked which Army I wished to accompany, the German or the French. I told him the German, for the reason that I thought more could be seen with the successful side, and that the indications pointed to the defeat of the French. My choice evidently pleased him greatly, as he had the utmost contempt for Louis Napoleon, and had always denounced him as a usurper and a charlatan. Before we separated, the President gave me the following letter to the representatives of our Government abroad, and with it I not only had no trouble in obtaining permission to go with the Germans, but was specially favored by being invited to accompany the headquarters of the King of Prussia:
Word of my intended trip was cabled to Europe in the ordinary press despatches, and our Minister to France, Mr. Elihu B. Washburn, being an intimate friend of mine, and thinking that I might wish to  attach myself to the French army, did me the favor to take preliminary steps for securing the necessary authority. He went so far as to broach the subject to the French Minister of War, but in view of the informality of the request, and an unmistakable unwillingness to grant it being manifested, Mr. Washburn pursued the matter no further. I did not learn of this kindly interest in my behalf till after the capitulation of Paris, when Mr. Washburn told me what he had done of his own motion. Of course I thanked him gratefully, but even had he succeeded in getting the permission he sought I should not have accompanied the French army. I sailed from New York July 27, one of my aides-de-camp, General James W. Forsyth, going with me. We reached Liverpool August 6, and the next day visited the American Legation in London, where we saw all the officials except our Minister, Mr. Motley, who, being absent, was represented by Mr. Moran, the Secretary of the Legation. We left London August 9 for Brussels, where we were kindly cared for by the American Minister, Mr. Russell Jones, who the same evening saw us off for Germany. Because of the war we secured transportation only as far as Vera, and here we received information that the Prussian Minister of War had telegraphed to the Military Inspector of Railroads to take charge of us on our arrival at Cologne, and send us down to the headquarters of the Prussian army, but the Inspector, for some unexplained reason, instead of doing this, sent us on to Berlin. Here our Minister, Mr. George Bancroft, met us with a telegram from the German Chancellor, Count Bismarck, saying we were expected to come direct to the King's headquarters; and we learned also that a despatch had been sent to the Prussian Minister at Brussels directing him to forward us from Cologne to the army, instead of allowing us to go on to Berlin, but that we had reached and quit Brussels without the Minister's knowledge.