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Nez Perce Summer, 1877







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Appendix A

Appendix B


Nez Perce Summer, 1877
Chapter 7: Camas Meadows
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Chapter 7:
Camas Meadows (continued)

On August 17, after detaching Captain Browning's Seventh infantrymen to go on to Deer Lodge and then on to their home station at Missoula, Howard traveled to Junction Station. That night he sent forty cavalrymen under First Lieutenant George R. Bacon, together with several Bannock scouts under Orlando "Rube" Robbins, to proceed via Red Rock Lake to Raynolds Pass near Henry's Lake, constantly probing the country to their right in an effort to find the Nez Perces. If he encountered them, Bacon was to somehow hinder their approach while sending the information back to Howard. [21] At Junction Station, another contingent of fifty-three Montana volunteers—these from Virginia City and most of them under Captain James E. Callaway—joined along with a mountain howitzer. Some of them, like those from Deer Lodge, took French leave and went home, although Callaway and about forty stayed with the troops. (The howitzer was left at Pleasant Valley, and Callaway's men never reached Howard until he stopped at Camas Meadows.) Scouting ahead of the cavalry, Howard also learned of the sightings of the Nez Perces farther south on the stage road, and he sent several citizen scouts forward to Pleasant Valley, just below the Montana line, to more precisely assess their whereabouts. [22]

On the morning of August 18, Company L, Second Cavalry, under the command of Captain Randolph Norwood, joined Howard's force. Norwood had started from the Tongue River Cantonment on the lower Yellowstone River on July 18 as escort to Commanding General Sherman, who was set to visit the national park, but at Fort Ellis, Sherman had sent Norwood's unit—fifty-nine men—forward to aid Howard in the prosecution of the Nez Perces. Norwood's horses were tired, but offered a striking contrast to the condition of Howard's own depleted animals. Because of Sanford's need to graze and rest his horses, Howard allowed the major to remain in bivouac that morning while he moved on to Pleasant Valley.

Late that evening, the cavalry having rejoined Howard, the command camped at Dry Creek Station, eight miles below Pleasant Valley on the stage road, from which point "the best possible road" led east to Henry's Lake. Here First Lieutenant Henry M. Benson, Seventh Infantry, joined the troops. He had been sent from Deer Lodge by Gibbon to work with the volunteers, but because most of them had returned home, Howard attached Benson to Norwood's cavalry company. That evening scouts brought information that the Nez Perces were encamped at Camas Meadows, eighteen miles east. Howard, after consulting his officers, determined that his weary cavalry mounts could not undergo a night march and went into camp.

On Sunday, the nineteenth, the command started east and shortly encountered the broad trail of the Nez Perces"fifty to one hundred and fifty feet wide, and the vegetation . . . almost entirely obliterated by the tramping of their several hundred ponies and the dragging of scores of travois poles." [23] Along the way, the soldiers saw fresh graves, apparently those of more Big Hole wounded. A Second Cavalry sergeant reported seeing "numbers of conical piles of pony droppings, evidently built by hand," which the Bannocks said had been fashioned by youths to show their contempt for the troops. Reports from Howard's scouts suggested that the tribesmen were headed for the Wind River plains in Wyoming, and "miles and miles away" the soldiers could see the dust of their caravan. [24]

As the army trailed east they passed along the broad country geologically termed the eastern Snake River Plain. In many ways identical to the land the Nez Perces had passed through in the Lemhi Valley, the eastern plain presented an incongruous mix of desert and intermittent wetland trending northeast practically all the way to the Wyoming line. Bounded on the north by the Centennial Range of the Rockies, the zone traversed by the Nez Perces and the army in 1877 was marked by residue in the form of basalt-lava flow outcroppings left from volcanic upheavals that occurred more than one-half million years earlier. Camas Meadows, a low and lush grassy area punctuating the basalt fields, is named for the plant whose blue flowers blanket the country each spring. Camas Meadows is watered by a network of streams converging varicosely from the northwest, north, and northeast into two major courses, Camas Creek and Spring Creek (the latter an affluent of Camas Creek, which is westernmost of the two). The two creeks begin to roughly parallel each other approximately two and one-half miles south of the present community of Kilgore, Idaho. The main channels of these streams are generally separated by about one-half mile, although minor tributaries of each transect the intervening ground, creating a boggy condition that is present part of the year, but in August is mostly dry. One southwardly flowing intermittent tributary of Spring Creek appears on early maps as "Camas Creek," and was apparently so designated in 1877. Several miles farther south, Spring Creek and what was then Camas Creek converge, with Camas Creek continuing on to join Mud Lake forty miles southwest. Camas Meadows encompasses an area approximately five miles east-to-west at its widest point, and ten miles from north to south. Today it is bordered on its east, north, and west by parts of the Targhee National Forest. [25]

Into this region Howard's fatigued troops marched eighteen miles from the stage road, establishing their bivouac of August 19 along the high ground fringing the bottom of Spring Creek, on the east side of Camas Meadows. Howard described the camp as follows:

[It was] a very strong natural position on the first elevated ground which overlooks the meadows toward the west and some lava-beds toward the north and east. The cavalry [apparently excepting Norwood's company—see below] was posted in line of battle covering the camp; the infantry in reserve near the creek, and great pains taken by my inspector, Maj. E. C. Mason, Twenty-first Infantry, to cover the camp with pickets in every direction. Before night every animal was brought within, the horses tied to the picket-ropes, the animals with the few wagons, to their wagons, and the bell-mares of the pack-trains were hobbled. Captain [James A.] Calloway's [sic] volunteers came up and encamped about one hundred yards from me, across a creek. They are between two streams of water whose banks were fringed by thickets of willows. [26]

In a reminiscence published four years later, Howard provided additional particulars of the site:

We took for the centre of our night camp one of these [lava] knolls which was near to the meadow bottom. From my tent I looked back [west] to the parallel streams. Across the first one, the Calloway [sic] volunteers encamped. Norwood's Cavalry and the forty infantry occupied the west side [of the then Camas Creek]. The other companies of cavalry covered all approaches to my own, the central position, which was upon a comparatively high lava pile, that, studded with bushes, constituted our castle-like defence. [27]

sketch of Lava Beds at Camas Meadows
"Fight at Camas Meadows—Sanford—Aug. 20" represents the scene at Howard's camp on the morning of August 20, 1877, looking west.
Inset drawing in Fletcher, "Department of Columbia Map"

As depicted in contemporary accounts, including Howard's report, most of the troops comprising Sanford's cavalry battalion took position according to their column formation, or "in line of battle," along the high ground, probably within the roughly defined 150-yard-radius of high knolls on which Mason and the soldiers raised bulwarks of large pieces of basalt scattered through the area. The infantry, consisting of Humphrey's Fourth artillerymen and Wells's Eighth infantrymen, presumably along with the wagons, occupied the strip of ground immediately west, bordering the east side of Spring Creek. As indicated, Callaway's Montanans set up their camp in the median between Spring Creek and the then Camas Creek, a short distance from where their horses grazed and approximately 100 yards from Howard's bivouac. [28] Immediately west of Callaway, and across the latter stream, Norwood's cavalry guarded the perimeter. The untethered pack mules likewise grazed between the streams; the bell-mares—horses with soft-toned bells strapped to their necks to which the pack animals responded—were hobbled to keep the mules from wandering off in the night. "Gen. Howard placed a line of pickets outside of the herd [of mules], along the northwest and west sides of the meadow." [29] Meanwhile, Sanford's horses, probably also left to graze for a time between the streams, were by nightfall within the infantry line east of Spring Creek and tied to a picket rope, while the wagon teams were tied to their vehicles. [30] The Camas Meadows site, with its lush grazing and trout-laden streams, rewarded both men and animals. "With only a small portion of the men fishing, enough were taken to feed the entire command," remembered Sergeant Harry J. Davis. [31]

As Howard and his men settled in for the night, the command numbered slightly more than 260 men, including the Bannock scouts and the Montana volunteers. Of this force, it would be the cavalry that would play the most important part in the forthcoming action with the Nez Perces. The commander, thirty-five-year-old Major George B. Sanford (1842-1908), had served with the First and Second Dragoons in the West during the opening months of the Civil War, and had later campaigned with Grant and Sheridan in the eastern theater. Most of his subsequent service had been in the trans-Mississippi West. Captain James Jackson, who had joined Howard near the end of the Clearwater battle, had risen from the enlisted ranks during the Civil War, as had First Lieutenant John Q. Adams, veteran most recently of the Modoc conflict in California. Both Captain Camillus C. Carr and First Lieutenant Charles C. Cresson had also advanced from the ranks, but Carr had spent his entire military service in the First Cavalry. Lieutenant Benson, a veteran of the California volunteers, joined the regulars in 1866 and transferred to the Seventh Infantry three years later. [32]

But it was Captain Randolph Norwood's Company L, Second Cavalry, that would see the most action at Camas Meadows. Norwood (1834-1901) was from Maryland and served in that state's volunteer cavalry during the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley and at Petersburg, Virginia. He joined the Second Cavalry in 1866. After serving in the West for several years, Norwood went on recruiting duty and after that managed an extended sick leave, first to his home in Baltimore and then, during the summer of 1875, to Europe. In 1876, a citizen wrote the Secretary of War that Norwood "has been loafing around our streets for over 2 years," and an army retirement board found "no disqualification for active service" and urged that Norwood rejoin his command. The captain arrived back in Montana in time to participate in the closing operations of the Great Sioux War, including the fight with Lame Deer's Sioux at Muddy Creek in May, 1877. [33]

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