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Doc. 47. operations in the North-West.

Report of General Pope.

headquarters Department of the North-West, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 8, 1864.
General: I have the honor to submit the following report of operations in this department during the past year:

The two great Indian nations which occupy this military department are the Chippewas, who inhabit the region between Lake Superior and Rainy Lake river on the east, and the Red River of the North on the west, and the powerful Sioux or Dakota nation which, divided into several strong and warlike tribes, claims and roams over the vast region from the western frontier of Minnesota on the east, to the Rocky Mountains on the west, and from the frontier of Iowa and the line of the Platte river on the south to the British possessions on the north. There are some small fragments of tribes on the Upper Missouri who belong to neither nation, but they are few in number, insignificant in strength or influence, and have always been at peace with the whites.

With the Chippewas there have been no difficulties which have led to hostilities, although there have been and continue to be, the constant misunderstanding, dissatisfaction and controversy, which naturally arise under our defective Indian system, between the Indians on the one side, and Indian agents and traders on the other. So far, these difficulties have not culminated in actual hostilities, but unless the Indian system be remodelled they are likely to do so at any moment. The war up to this time has been entirely confined to the Sioux nation.

It will be remembered that the campaign of last year terminated, so far as field operations were concerned, with the defeat of the Sioux by General Sully, near the James river, on the third September, 1863.

The high latitude of the theatre of war in this department, the immense region of uninhabited country covered by military operations, and the vast distances from the frontier to be traversed before the enemy can be reached, of necessity very much shorten the season during which it is possible to carry on actual field operations.

After reaching the Indian country not more than three months are left in which it is practicable to keep troops in the field.

The operations of last year ended with such defeats of the Indians occupying the vast regions east of the Missouri river as forced them for a time to take refuge in the British possessions, and relieved the entire frontier settlements of Minnesota, Iowa, and Dakota from any danger of Indian hostilities. During last winter, however, the whole Dakota nation from the Rocky mountains to the Minnesota frontier, and from the Platte river and the Iowa line to the [399] British possessions on the north, succeeded in combining their various and scattered tribes for a final effort against the whites, and by the opening of spring had slowly concentrated their whole force on and near the Upper Missouri, to resist the navigation of the Missouri river, prevent the passage of emigrants across the great plains, and to deliver, with their combined forces, a final battle against the United States troops under General Sully,

This Indian force was then estimated by competent authorities, and so reported by me to the War Department early in the spring, at about six thousand warriors, and this estimate was subsequently confirmed by General Sully, after his battles with them near the Little Missouri.

It was also reported at the time, and has been confirmed since by undoubted testimony, that ammunition and other necessary supplies were brought to the Indian camps during the winter by half-breeds and traders from the British settlements on the Red River of the North. It is hardly necessary for me to repeat what I have so often reported, that Indian hostilities in this department have been fomented and encouraged and the Indians supplied with the means to continue the war by the half-breeds, and other British subjects of the Selkirk settlements.

As I was satisfied that this combination of the whole of the numerous and widely-dispersed tribes of the Sioux (or Dakota) nation, who occupy the vast region north of the Platte, and the northern boundaries of Iowa, from the Rocky mountains to the vicinity of the Great Lakes, would be the final effort of the great Indian nation to continue hostilities against the whites, and as I felt sure that if once their entire force of warriors could be met and defeated this Indian war in the North-west on any considerable scale would be closed, preparations for an active campaign during the summer of 1864 were made during the close of last winter.

The plan of operations consisted in putting into the field under the command of Brigadier-General A. Sully, an active column of about two thousand five hundred men entirely cavalry, to advance against the Indians wherever they could be found and deliver battle with them, and at the same time to follow up the movement of this force with detachments of infantry large enough to establish strong posts in the Indian country.

These posts were so located as to cover the frontier of Iowa and Minnesota and the frontier settlements of Dakota territory, at a long distance; to interpose between the different tribes so as to prevent concerted action; to command the hunting grounds of the Indians so that they would be constantly under the supervision and in the power of the military forces, which by concerted action could easily and promptly march a heavy force of cavalry upon any portion of the region in which the Indians are obliged to hunt for subsistence; to command the Indian trails toward the frontier settlements, so as to detect the passage even of the smallest parties attempting to make raids upon the settlers, and to follow them up; and, so far as military necessities would allow, to protect an emigrant route from the Upper Mississippi river to the territories of Idaho and Montana. The details of this plan of operations were submitted to you and approved in February last, and immediate preparations made to carry them into execution.

General Sully collected the forces under his command from the various posts and stations in his district early in the spring, and commenced to move up the Missouri river, leaving only such detachments as were necessary to cover the frontier from small Indians raids during,his absence. He was reinforced by about one thousand five hundred mounted men from Minnesota, leaving General Sibley with about seven hundred effective men to protect the frontier settlements of Minnesota during the summer. The mouth of Burdache creek, on the Upper Missouri, was selected as the point where the Minnesota troops should join the forces of General Sully moving up the Missouri, and the junction of these forces was made on the thirtieth of June. The spring rise in the Missouri river did not come down until very late in the season, and Sully only reached the mouth of Canon Ball river, at which point he was to establish a strong post, which was to be his depot of supplies, on the seventh of July. He established Fort Rice at that point, distant from Sioux City four hundred and fifty miles, and garrisoned it with five companies of the. Thirtieth Wisconsin volunteers. The Indians, who had been concentrated on and near the Missouri river, about fifty miles above this post, had meantime crossed to the south-west side of the river and occupied a strong position in a very difficult country near the Little Missouri river, due west, and about two hundred miles from Fort Rice.

On the twenty-sixth of July, General Sully marched upon these Indians with the following forces: Eighth Minnesota volunteers (mounted) and six companies of Second Minnesota cavalry, with four light guns, under command of Colonel M. T. Thomas, Eighth Minnesota volunteers; eleven companies Sixth Iowa cavalry, three companies Seventh Iowa cavalry, two companies Dakota cavalry, four companies Brackett's battalion cavalry, one small company of scouts, and four mountain howitzers, all under command of--------, numbering in all two thousand two hundred men. A small emigrant train for Idaho, which had accompanied the Minnesota troops from that State, followed the movement of Sually's force. At the head of Heart river he corralled his trains, and leaving a sufficient guard with them, he marched rapidly to the north-west, to the point where the combined forces of the Indians were assembled. On the morning of July twenty-eighth, he came upon them — between five and six thousand warriors — strongly [400] posted in a wooded country, very much cut up with high, rugged hills and deep, impassable ravines. He had an hour's talk with some of the Indian chiefs, who were very defiant and impudent, after which he moved rapidly forward against their strong position.

The action for a time was sharp and severe, but the artillery and long-range small-arms of the troops were very destructive, and the Indians began to give way on all sides. They were so closely pressed by Sully's forces that they abandoned their extensive camps, leaving all their robes, lodges, colts and utensils of every description, and and all the winter supply of provisions which they had been so long collecting. The action resulted in a running fight of nine miles, the Indians finally scattering completely, and escaping with nothing but their wounded, which, according to Indian custom they carried off, as also as many of their killed as they could. One hundred and twenty-five dead warriors were left on the field. I have transmitted heretofore the reports of General Sully and of the various commanders of his force, as also a statement of the immense quantity of Indian goods and supplies destroyed by General Sully in the captured camp of the Indians.

Finding the country nearly impracticable, having only a small supply of provisions or means to carry them, and ascertaining that the retreat of the mass of the Indians was toward the south-west, Sully returned to his train at the head of Heart river, and resumed his march westward, through an unknown and unexplored region, toward the Yellowstone, which he expected to reach near Fort Alexander, at which point it had been proposed to establish a military post.

On the fifth of August he came in sight of the Bad Lands, which border the Little Missouri on both sides. The country was exceedingly rugged and difficult, and so cut up with deep, perpendicular ravines, that it was with the utmost labor and loss of time that a narrow, winding way between the ravines, in places barely ten feet wide, was found for his wagons. I cannot convey a better idea of the country than is contained in the following extract from Sully's report, which will be full of interest to the scientiflc world:

I have not sufficient power of language to describe the country in front of us. It was grand, dismal, and majestic. You can imagine a basin, six hundred feet deep and twenty-five miles in width filled with a number of cones and oven-shaped knolls of all sizes, from twenty-five to several hundred feet high, sometimes by themselves, sometimes piled up into large heaps on top of each other, in all conceivable shapes and confusion. Most of these hills were of a gray clay, but many of a light brick color — of burnt clay — little or no vegetation. Some of the sides of the hills, however, were covered with a few scrub cedars. Viewed in the distance at sunset, it looked exactly like the ruins of an ancient city. I regret very much that some gentleman well acquainted with geology and mineralogy did not accompany the expedition, for we marched through a most wonderful and interesting country. It was covered with pieces of petrified wood, and on the tops of some of the hills we found petrified stumps of trees, the remains of a great forest. In some cases these trees were sixteen to eighteen feet in diameter, Large quantities of iron ore, lava, and impressions of leaves in the rocks, of a size and shape not known to any of us.

In this difficult and almost impassable region, a portion of the Indians whom Sully had defeated on the twenty-eighth of July attempted to offer resistance, but were badly defeated, leaving over one hundred dead on the field.

After this hopeless effort, in which General Sully reports that they exhibited none of the spirit and audacity which characterized the fight on the 28th of July, the Indians scattered, and broke up their combination entirely. The Tetons, separated into small fragments, fled toward the south-west; the Yancktonnais, with other confederated tribes from the north and east sides of the Missouri, crossed the Missouri river, and retreated rapidly into the British possessions by way of Mouse river. General Sully followed them nearly to the British line.

Finding the country west of Fort Rice, in the direction of the Yellowstone, impracticable for wagon roads, Sully decided not to establish a post so high up on that river, but placed a garrison at mouth of Yellowstone and another at the trading post of Fort Berthold, lower down on the Missouri river. These posts, in connection with Fort Rice, will keep open the Missouri river, render travel along the valley secure, and separate the Indian tribes so that another concentration will be impracticable even should the Indians seek it.

Sully returned slowly by way of the Missouri river valley to Fort Rice. After leaving that post well garrisoned and in good condition, and sending the Thirtieth Wisconsin volunteers to the Mississippi, to go south to Sherman's army, Sully came slowly down to Sioux City, where his last despatches are dated.

To Fort Randall, and also to Fort Pierre, chiefs of the combined Sioux tribes which he had defeated, came in and asked for peace, acknowledging that they could not fight against the whites, that they had lost everything, robes, lodges, provisions, &c., and would be in a starving condition. They were informed by the commanding officers of those posts that the only conditions of peace required from them were that they would behave themselves and not molest the whites. The Indians were both surprised and gratified that peace on such easy terms was to be had, and immediately returned to their tribes to bring in the principal chiefs to meet General Sully at Fort Randall. It is expected that peace with all the tribes west of the [401] Missouri river, on terms entirely satisfactory to the Government, will be made this winter; a peace which involves neither presents nor annuities of any description, but a peace simply based upon good behavior.

With the Yancktonnais and other Sioux tribes north and east of the Missouri there will be somewhat longer delay in coming to satisfactory terms. About half these Indians desire to make peace at once, but there are many who wish to keep up the war.

These last are encouraged in their purpose by half-breeds and other British subjects, and as they have a safe refuge in the British possessions, and are there supplied with means to carry on hostilities, it will probably require the hardships and privations of a winter in those arctic regions to bring them to their senses. They took refuge there after the late battles in a perfectly destitute condition, and are already beginning to rob and plunder, and in places, to commit murder in the English settlements. They will soon become as odious and dangerous to the British settlements as they have been to our own. By spring most likely everything will be satisfactorily settled.

As matters stand, and are likely to stand this winter, however, with these Indians, there is no manner of danger to the frontier settlements of Minnesota or Dakota. The Indians are driven far away, and a cold, barren and bleak prairie region, many hundreds of miles in extent, and impassable in winter, interposes between them and the frontier settlements.

In Minnesota there have been no active operations, there being no hostile Indians, except a few straggling thieves, east of the Missouri river. With the small force under his command judiciously posted, General Sibley has kept everything quiet on the Minnesota border, nor is there ever again the likelihood of any Indian hostilities from Sioux on the Minnesota frontier, beyond such small thieving raids as are incident to the situation, and must always occur so long as there are Indians on our western borders. With these, should they occur, a small force will be able to deal conclusively.

For details, of which the foregoing report is a brief summary, I have the honor to refer you to the reports of Generals Sully and Sibley herewith and heretofore transmitted.

In some manner the British Government should either prevent hostile Indians who reside within the boundaries of the United States from seeking refuge in British territory, or should secure the United States against the raids of such Indians, or should permit the United States forces to pursue into British territory all Indians who belong south of the line, and who are at war with citizens of the United States. One of these three demands is certainly reasonable, and will effect the desired purpose. In the same connection it will be necessary to prohibit half-breeds and other British subjects from coming into the territory of the United States to trade with Indians, whether hostile to us or not, who live south of the British line. The hostile Sioux have for the past two years been supplied with ammunition, provisions, &c., to carry on hostilities against the United States by British subjects, both in their own territory and in ours. A state of hostility between the Sioux and citizens of the United States, of course, throws all the trade with such Indians into the hands of British traders. Hence the anxiety of these traders to prevent peace with the Sioux Indians.

I have the honor again to ask attention to my letter of February 6, 1864, to the Secretary of War, on the subject of our Indian system, and to beg, in view of the interests of the Government as well as of humanity, that such legislative or executive action be recommended as will, as far as practicable, correct the evils therein set forth. I transmit enclosed a copy of that letter and a copy of trade regulations with Indians, which I have heretofore forwarded, and which I deem necessary to protect Indians and white men alike against Indian traders.

It is my purpose, by forcing all traders with Indians to locate their trading posts in the immediate vicinity of the military posts, and nowhere else, to make these military posts the neuclei of extensive Indian camps, and as far as possible to induce the Indians to make their permanent homes so near to the posts that they will constantly be under the supervision and control of the garrisons.

If there be no other places to trade except the military posts, the Indian will necessarily resort to them, and will there remain, except when he is engaged in hunting during the summer season.

If fair dealing with Indians can be enforced, there never will be danger of any Indian wars. The object of these trade regulations is to secure these two results; but unless they are adopted and enforced by military authority, we cannot hope for any permanent peace with the Indian tribes. The regulations themselves are so full, and their object so manifest, that it is unnecessary to go further into detail concerning them.

The only other white men I would permit to have intercourse with the Indians are the missionaries. I trust that some arrangements will be made with the authorities of our home missionary societies to furnish to each military post good practical men, with their families, whose business shall be to teach the Indians the useful arts of life; the Indian men to cultivate the soil, the Indian women to sew and to do such other work as they are fitted for, and all to keep themselves clean and decent. These are the first lessons to be taught to Indians.

Religious instruction will come afterward in its natural order. The failure of our missionaries among Indians is due, I think, mainly to the fact that they have reversed the proper order of instruction, and have attempted to make the Indian a member of the church while he was still a wild savage. Of course, if anything is to be gained by it, the Indian will profess his belief [402] in anything whatever, without the slightest knowledge or concern as to what it all means. What is needed to civilize and Christianize Indians are practical common-sense men, who will first teach them to be human and to acquire the arts of civilized life; who will educate, as far as can be done, the children of the Indians, and who will be content to look to the future, and not to the immediate present, for results. Such missionaries could be of incalculable benefit to the Indian and to the Government; and I would recommend that whenever such men are sent to the military posts on the frontier, the Government furnish them with quarters and with rations, at the rate of two small families for each one of the larger posts, and for one small family for each smaller post, I have no doubt that these small missions at each post, if conducted by practical and earnest men, would greatly add to the hope of permanent peace with the Indians, and contribute to a healthy and increasing improvement in the moral and physical condition of the Indian tribes.

The military commanders will be instructed to give every assistance and encouragement to such missionaries, and to enjoin upon the officers and soldiers under their command that they exhibit toward the missionaries every respect and kindness.

The peace which will be made with Indians, under the instructions I have given to Generals Sully and Sibley, is based simply upon the understanding that the Indians on the one hand behave themselves and do not molest the whites, and on the other hand that the whites shall be made to deal fairly with the Indians, and not molest them in any way. The military authorities undertake to enforce good conduct on both sides, and will have the power, if not interfered with, to do so thoroughly. As such a peace involves neither annuities nor presents, and holds out no prospect in violating it, except hostilities, it will probably be lasting. Hitherto it has been the practice to accompany every treaty of peace, made by Indian agents, with expensive presents of goods and supplies of various kinds, and the Indians naturally understand that these are given them as bribes to keep the peace, and because the whites are afraid of them; and, of course, they observe such treaties only as long as they find it convenient, or until they need a further supply of presents, (ammunition, goods, &c.) In fact, it has been for years a saying with the Sioux, along the great mail-route to California, that whenever they became poor and needed blankets and powder and lead, they had only to go down to this great mail and emigrant route, and kill a few white people, and there would be another treaty of peace, which would supply all their wants.

It is beyond question that such a system of treaty-making is, of all others, the most impolitic, whether negotiated with savage or civilized people, and leads, in either case, to constant and increasing hostilities.

I intend, in settling a peace with Indians in this department, to do away entirely with this system, which, aside from its effect in stimulating and encouraging breaches of treaties of peace, is always attended with fraud upon the Government and upon the Indians.

I shall send up, in the spring, some companies of cavalry to make a cantonment for the summer, at some point on the lake, and to remain there until the last possible moment in the autumn, with the view of drawing the various tribes of Indians to that point, and furnishing them with facilities of trade during the summer and autumn. Such a cantonment, kept up for two or three seasons, will have a most beneficial effect upon the Indians, as all whites, except authorized traders acting under the supervision of the military authorities, will be prohibited from going into that region.

It is proper to remark that extensive strata of excellent coal have been found at Fort Rice, one vein six feet thick. This coal-field extends toward the south-west, and it is supposed outcrops on the slopes of the Black Hills. How far north it extends is not yet known. The existence of this great coal-field, half-way between the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains, is a fact, the value of which cannot well be overestimated. Aside from furnishing fuel for the navigation of the Upper Missouri river, it is a controlling element in the location of a railroad across the great plains to the Pacific.

Its extent and character will soon be developed by the troops from Fort Rice and other points on the Missouri river.

I may state finally, that the Government may safely dismiss all apprehensions of Indian wars in the North-west. Small Indian raids there doubtless will be, as there always have been, for stealing horses; but no hostilities, on any considerable scale, are likely again to occur. A small force, such as is designated in this report, will be quite sufficient to protect the frontier and the emigration.

I only ask, now, that the military authorities be left to themselves to deal with these Indians, and to regulate the trading with the Indian tribes without the interposition of Indian agents, and I will cheerfully guarantee peace with the Indian tribes in this department.

The department has been administered, so far as its relations with the State and other civil authorities are concerned, in accordance with the views and principles laid down in the accompanying letter from me to Governor Saloman, of Wisconsin. I am gratified to say that there have been entire harmony and success. The draft and all other laws of the United States have been promptly and fully executed in the department, without difficulty or trouble of any kind whatever.

I desire to bear testimony to the hearty cooperation and zeal of the district commanders in the department in the discharge of the various and perplexing duties which have devolved upon them. [403]

General Sully, commanding District of Iowa and the Indian expedition; General Sibley, commanding District of Minnesota, and General T. C. H. Smith, commanding District of Wisconsin, are entitled to my warmest thanks for their valuable services and the cordial good feeling which they have manifested during their entire term of service in this department.

To General Sully I particularly desire to invite the favorable consideration of the War Department. His arduous and distinguished services in organizing and conducting the Indian expedition and beating and dispersing the combined tribes of Indians in two considerable battles, at such remote points and in so difficult a country, and in thus bringing the Indians to the necessity of asking peace from the Government, entitle him to peculiar consideration, and make it proper for me to renew the application heretofore transmitted for his promotion. He has earned it fairly, and I trust and believe that the Government will not hesitate to confer it upon him.

To the reports of Generals Sully and Sibley, and to those of their subordinate commanders, I refer for details of the various military operations herein sketched, and for a proper representation of the distinguished conduct of the several officers and of the troops under their command. I cheerfully endorse their recommendations in behalf of the officers and soldiers in question.

I am, General, respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

John Pope, Major-General Commanding. Major-General H. W. Halleck, Chief of Staff of the Army, Washington, D. C.

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