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Chapter 10:

  • April Fool's day
  • -- seven Pin Indians killed at Park Hill, Cherokee Nation, by the enemy in federal uniform -- the march to Cincinnati on the State line -- war paint and yelping of the Indians when they start out -- commendable conduct of the Indian soldiers while in Missouri and Arkansas -- the division crosses the line into the Indian country -- on the march to Park Hill -- the country becomes more inviting and the vegetation more advanced -- rebel scouting party near Fayetteville -- arrival at Park Hill and meeting of the Indian refugee families from Neosho -- great manifestations of joy and affecting scenes -- Stanawaitie commanding the rebel Indians -- Colonel Phillips sends out a strong reconnoissance -- Webber's Falls -- he drives the enemy into the Arkansas River and takes Fort Gibson -- Description of the place -- its importance -- the beautiful Grand and Verdigris Rivers.

This is April Fool's day, but no one has come to me all aglow with excitement and asked me to prepare to meet the enemy charging down the road. Nor have I heard that some adventurous spirit, amongst us, in a dream last night, commenced to kill all our animals, thinking he was slaying the enemy like mad Ajax. Probably not one in a hundred of our soldiers here thinks of the first day of April in connection with the custom associated with it in nearly all the large cities of Christendom. [198]

A detachment of this division just arrived from Park Hill, Cherokee Nation, reports that seven of our Indians, known as Pins, were killed at that place a few days ago by a party of rebels wearing the federal uniform. By this deception and dastardly act the enemy were permitted to approach within a few yards of the Indians, and, by a well-directed fire, shot them down before they had time to offer any resistance. This is not the only instance during the past year of small detachments of our troops having been entrapped by the enemy who were dressed in the federal uniform. Orders were issued early in the war in regard to the punishment to be inflicted upon rebels caught wearing the federal uniform. Every one captured wearing it should be tried by a drum-head court-martial, condemned and immediately shot. Should any of our soldiers go within the enemy's lines and practice a similar deception, and get captured, they would hardly expect any leniency from the confederate authorities. Such a method of carrying on war cannot be too strongly condemned, nor those caught engaged in it too quickly punished to the extent of involving the death penalty. On our side we do not wish to let the war degenerate into a form that would put us on a par with the lowest savages. One would think that the confederate leaders, who like to boast of their chivalry, would not tolerate practices so much at variance with the usages of modern warfare among civilized nations. In the end such treachery and cowardice can avail them nothing, [199] besides it will leave a stain upon their arms that history cannot wipe out.

The Indian division left Camp Pomeroy on the Illinois river, on the morning of the 3d, and marched twelve miles southwest to Cincinnati, a small village on the State line. The place may have contained a population of a hundred people before the war, but probably nearly half the families have moved away particularly those of known Union sentiments. In peaceable times the few business establishments here perhaps had quite a traffic with the Indians from the Cherokee Nation. It is the intention to remain here only a few days, when we shall pass into the Indian territory, which will probably for some time be the centre of our operations.

Lieutenant Joseph Hall, of the battalion of the Sixth Kansas cavalry, with a detachment of one hundred men, came in to-day from Dutch Mills, where he was sent several days ago to fetch out a number of Unionists who have been concealed in the mountains to escape capture and destruction by the enemy. Colonel Phillips has shown a disposition to do everything in his power to afford protection to the loyal people of this section. The appeals for protection and assistance in various ways are quite numerous. One day a report comes in that a Union family, some-thirty miles distant in a given direction, has been robbed by bushwhackers of everything they possessed, are in destitute circumstances, and desire to come into our lines until they have an opportunity of going north with [200] our supply trains and escorts. Another day the news comes to us of a loyal family in distress in some other direction. A detachment of cavalry and one or more mule teams are sent out to bring in the men, women and children, and their effects.

Last night, just as a scouting party were going out, an Indian soldier was instantly killed by the discharge of a musket on the shoulder of a comrade in front of him,--going off accidentally. The muzzle of the gun was so near him that the ball tore away nearly the whole anterior portion of the skull. The Indian troops are armed with muzzle-loading muskets, whose calibres range from 69 to 72, requiring balls weighing upwards of an ounce. They do not always sling their muskets to their shoulders so that the muzzles point directly downwards, as we do our Sharp's carbines. Nor are their arms as effective as ours. We can perhaps, on an average, load and discharge our Sharpe's carbines a dozen times while an Indian loads and discharges his musket once. Our small arms have been already greatly improved since the war commenced. The troops that have been longest in the field are generally supplied with the most improved models. But the Indians are generally good marksmen, and when rapid firing is not required (as on the skirmish line) their muskets may be used quite effectively.

The Indians are rather amusing as soldiers, particularly in regard to their war-paint and yelping when starting out on a scouting expedition or on the march. They seem to prefer to march in single file; but our [201] officers have drilled them in the regular manual, so that there is now very little difficulty in having them march by twos, fours, and by platoons, as required. But no matter in what order they are marching, when they start out and the head of the column has got far enough from camp for the rear to get in motion, the war whoop commences at the head of the column and runs back to the rear. This is generally kept up for some time. When the air is more resonant than usual, I have heard the woods fairly ring with their yelping. During the campaign in this section last fall, Colonel Phillips' Indian brigade was often a mile or more from us, but we knew every morning, unless it was stormy weather, just when it started out, by this yelping or war whoop, which generally lasted fifteen to twenty minutes. There is a strong contrast between the Indian and our white soldiers in this respect. Ten thousand of our white troops may start out on the march every morning, and manifest such silence that they could not be heard a hundred yards away, except as to the tramping of their horses and the ratting of their artillery carriages.

Though our Indian troops have been in Missouri and Arkansas since early last autumn, I believe they have committed fewer unauthorized depredations than the same number of white troops, had they occupied the same localities. The non-combatant classes seem to have an almost instinctive fear of the Indians, yet it has been a very rare thing to hear of complaints being made against our Indian soldiers for having [202] committed unauthorized acts. Much credit is due to Colonel Phillips for the splendid discipline he has maintained without having to resort to severe measures. No military commander could have discharged his duty in a more commendable manner. We pass now into the Indian country, and bid a temporary adieu to Arkansas.

Early on the morning of the 6th we left Cincinnati and marched to Dutch Mills, twelve miles south, on the State line. At this point we took the road leading into the Cherokee Nation towards Park Hill, but marched only a few miles west when we pitched our camp, and called it Camp “Jim Lane,” in honor of Senator James H. Lane, whose name is familiar to every one acquainted with the history of Kansas. At eight o'clock on the morning of the 8th everything was in readiness to move, and from Camp “Jim Lane” we marched to Park Hill, twenty-two miles west, and encamped near the residence of the Chief, John Ross. After we left Duchtown every mile of the country we passed over became more inviting. For agricultural and grazing purposes it is certainly much superior to Arkansas. We crossed the Illinois river again, a few miles to the east of us on the march here. It discharges a larger volume of water than when we crossed it in Arkansas, and its bottoms are much wider, and its course changes toward the south. It does not, however, go rushing along in such a rapid and impetuous current, but is now a placid and gently flowing stream. Every day's march to the southwest [203] brings us into a region where the vegetation is more advanced than where we were the day before, the wild flowers are more beautiful, the birds sing sweeter and have brighter and more elegant plumage, and altogether one feels happier. We believe that even our animals show a more hopeful expression. Grass and wild onions in the river bottoms are up an inch or so in height, and animals not required to work can live without any other food. The country here is not so broken and hilly as in northwestern Arkansas; in fact we are right on the border of the prairie region.

A detachment of the battalion, the Sixth Kansas cavalry, who came in from Fayetteville this morning, report that a rebel scouting party of about one hundred and fifty men, were within seven miles of that place on the 6th instant. Our soldiers came near running into the main body of them, so near, indeed, that they captured one of their men who had fallen behind, and brought him a prisoner to our camp, using him most of the time as a guide. This considerable force of the enemy's cavalry, so near our troops, indicates; his intention of displaying greater activity as the season advances. Now that we are getting so far away from Fayetteville, about fifty miles, and as we shall probably have our own hands full very soon, Colonel Harrison will have to depend upon his own resources to hold his station. We are unable to understand why so many of our troops are kept in the vicinity of Springfield, as we have heard of no threatened invasion of Missouri by the enemy directly south or southeast [204] of that place. The State Militia could probably preserve order in that section if our volunteer troops should occupy a more advanced position, and prevent the invasion of the State by the organized forces of the enemy.

The refugee train arrived to-day (9th) from Neosho, having been ten days en route to this place. The train, which was about a mile long, came in sight about ten o'clock. It was a lovely spring morning, the air soft and balmy, and everything looking gay and cheerful. Some of the Indian soldiers went out several miles to meet their families, but many waited until the train had approached near our camp. I watched them with a good deal of interest. Such manifestations of joy on the meeting of husbands and wives and children, I have never before witnessed. There were,perhaps,nearly a thousand families brought down, and in many instances husbands have been separated from their wives and children for nearly a year. Their joy was, no doubt, increased with the thought of being able to meet one another in their own country and near their own capital. The restoring to their homes an entire people who have so long been exiles, will surely be an event in their history that should not be passed over without mention. If they were as emotional in their natures as the French, I know they would cry with one voice, viva la Phillips. But their unbounded confidence in him shows their strong regard for him, and is probably as keenly appreciated by him as noisy demonstrations. That [205] he should have provided for the safety and comfort of their families during the winter, and restored them to their homes so early in the spring, is enough to set them rejoicing,with hearts full of gratitude towards their deliverer Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, is about seven miles northwest of here, but it has never been a place of much importance in a business point of view. It never contained a population of more than a few hundred inhabitants, and a dozen good buildings. Some of the buildings will probably soon be used for hospital purposes for the sick of this division, particularly the small-pox patients.

A skirmish took place yesterday, the 10th, at Fort Gibson between a battalion of our Indian soldiers and a small force of Standwaitie's Rebel Indians, resulting in the capture of half a dozen prisoners and the killing and wounding of five of tie enemy, the remainder having made their escape by swimming across the Arkansas river. It may now be said that we have undisputed possession of all the Indian country north of the Arkansas river. If there are any forces on this side of the river they will doubtless plunge into, it rather than to cross swords with our troops.

Colonel Standwaitie, who has commanded the Rebel portion of the Cherokees, is himself a Cherokee, and seems to have a wider fame than his valor and military skill entitle him to. We have heard a good deal of him ever since we came into this country last June, but have been unable to meet him. When we have had a skirmish with any of his Indians, it has always [206] turned out that he was not with them. We do not quite regard him as a mythical character, but we do not believe him to be such a brave and dashing Indian as he has often been represented, and as the frequent use of his name in connection with predatory actions would indicate. He has never boldly attacked even a detachment of our troops. Our Indians say that his name is not appropriate at all, that he does not stand and wait for us, but that he is always on the run as soon as our troops seek him. We shall, however, doubtless have occasion to try his valor before the summer is over.

Our entire division is to move to Fort Gibson in a few days; but before setting out, Colonel Phillips has deemed, it expedient to thoroughly reconnoitre the country between here and that place, and for that purpose to-day sent out a party of the Second Indian regiment and one company of the battalion of the Sixth Kansas cavalry, under Colonel David B. Corwin. Every precaution is being taken that our trains, artillery, and thorough organization shall not be endangered by ambuscade or surprise. We are now so far away from any other troops from whom we could expect assistance, that a defeat might prove the complete demoralization of this division. Colonel Phillips has carefully considered the probable consequences which would be sure to follow any reckless action of a military commander occupying his position.

Major Foreman, of the Third Indian regiment, who was sent out from here on the 8th instant with about [207] three hundred men, to make a reconnaissance in the direction of Webber's Falls, on the Arkansas river, some twenty-five miles south of us, returned to-day, having captured nearly three hundred head of cattle, and killed six of the enemy, including one captain and one sergeant. He also brought in a number of prisoners, who thought that their last day had come. The action took place near the mouth of the Illinois river, and the enemy were so completely surprised that they made very little resistance. We had only three or four men wounded.

On the morning of the t3th the troops and trains of our division left “Camp John Ross,” and marched to Fort Gibson, eighteen miles southwest. We passed over a lovely country, probably the finest in the Cherokee Nation. It appears to have been very well settled before the war, with many good farms under cultivation. The line of march was mainly over rolling prairies, though there was some timber on several small streams which we crossed.

Now that we have pitched our tents at Fort Gibson, and as this place will probably be the centre of our operations during the spring and summer, we may look around a little with the view of finding something worth setting down. This is quite an old post. It was established as a military post by the United States before the Cherokees left their Tennessee and Georgia homes and emigrated to this Territory. There are now two or three persons living here who say that they have a distinct recollection of Jefferson Davis, a [208] Lieutenant of Dragoons, when lie was stationed at this post as far back as 1832. It does not appear that any defensive works were ever erected here, except a couple of block-houses, and they are useless now. There are two good substantial stone buildings which have been used for quartermaster and commissary store houses. Their roofing is made of slate, and they will be very valuable in storing our quartermaster and commissary supplies, as they are transported by trains from Fort Scott. They are large enough to hold supplies for this division for upwards of thirty days. And they stand on a bluff overlooking Grand River to the west. The officers' and soldiers' quarters are wooden structures, and built on a piazza or public square, similar to the Court House squares of country towns. They are about two hundred yards south of the stone buildings above mentioned, on the slope of the hill, and are beginning to look old and dilapidated, although the interiors of the officers' quarters are in good condition, having been more expensively and elegantly finished up than the soldiers' quarters. They are different from the officers' and soldiers' quarters at Fort Scott, Kansas, in this respect: They are all single storied buildings, while at Scott the officers' quarters have two stories with attics, and the soldiers' quarters are two stories. There are several unfinished stone buildings on the bluff near the quartermaster and commissary store houses, which before the war the Government had under contract to be finished up for permanent quarters for officers and soldiers of the Regular Army. [209]

The location here is a lovely one for a military post, and perhaps for some future city of considerable importance. Looking to the east from the bluff where the stone buildings stand, you see in the distance, some ten miles off, the western terminus of the range of mountains which run north-eastward through Arkansas. Turning to the south, you overlook the Arkansas river three miles distant, and your eyes rest upon the opposite heights, and the prairie country beyond. Some places the heights are obscured by the heavy timber along the Arkansas; at other places you see them as through a vista. Turning to the west and south-west, you see at the distance of two miles, the western heights of Grand River. Further to the south-west may be seen a prairie region with a strip of timber running through it in a south-east direction. This strip of timber marks the course of the Verdigris River, which empties into the Arkansas River some five or six miles above the mouth of Grand River. The junctions of these three rivers, the Arkansas, the Grand and the Verdigris, being within a few miles of each other, and the three being nearly of the same size, will be favorable for the building of an important city somewhere in this vicinity when the country homes into the possession of the whites, as it probably will sometime in the future. The Cherokees, however, have made such progress in civilization, and have also been such staunch and reliable friends of the whites for nearly a century, with one or two unimportant exceptions, that they are not likely to be disturbed in the peaceable [210] possession of their country under the existing order of things. As a people, they might have been regarded as wealthy before the war. When we came into this section and the country above — here last July and August, we saw fine herds of cattle and ponies grazing upon the prairies, or standing in the cool waters of shady and peaceful flowing streams, the very pictures of rural life in a beautiful and happy country. The pictures were of course incomplete, for we nowhere saw in the background or foreground happy maidens tripping along and attending to their dairy or household duties. Nor did we hear happy voices or see any of those desirable features of country life, familiar to those whose earlier years were passed on the farm.

But let us return to things as we now see them. This has been a central position from which the Government could easily communicate with a number of Indian tribes. Supplies for the troops stationed here, and annuity goods for distribution to the Indians, have been brought up by river transportation, ever since this post was established. Every season during the spring rise of the Arkansas River, light draft steamers have not only run to this point, but sometimes for nearly a hundred miles above here on the Grand River. I saw an inscription on a tombstone yesterday, that a Lieutenant of the Regular Army was drowned at the mouth of the Neosho river in 1836, from having fallen overboard a steamboat at that point. The point where the military road to Fort Scott crosses the Neosho river is nearly a hundred miles [211] from Gibson. But I have heard from those who have lived here for many years, that there has been very little steamboating above this place. There has been no great inducements, no great commercial interests involved, to make it worth while to keep the river in a navigable condition. It requires a considerable rise in the Arkansas to enable boats to pass Webber's Falls. Below that point light draft steamers can probably run on the river the greater part of the year. How far it is possible to remove the obstacles to navigation at Webber's Falls, can be determined only after a careful examination by an experienced and competent engineer. Navigation on the Arkansas will always be troublesome between this place and Fort Smith, on account of the river constantly shifting its current, caused by the formation of sand bars. It is turbid and treacherous, and contrasts strongly with the Grand River, which is perfectly clear except during the season of heavy rains, and flows over a gravelly or pebbly bottom. Both rivers abound in fish, and those of our soldiers who are fond of the sport of angling will doubtless, when off duty, try their skill at it while we are stationed here.

From the bluff we can see a portion of the territory of the Creeks and Seminoles, Chickasaws and Cherokees. We have not as yet had any loyal Choctaws and Chickasaws join us, though we hear there are a good many among them who would prefer to cast their fortunes with the Union if they could have any reasonable assurance of protection. As we have come here to stay, [212] they will probably have ample opportunity of manifesting their locality and devotion to the Government by coming in and surrendering to Colonel Phillips.

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