A Night Attack
That night, just after 11 p.m. the camp came under attack. The Indians first fired double barreled shotguns, which almost immediately killed six horses and wounded five more. Once the shotgun blasts stopped, the party then heard arrows whizzing through the air. The 15 prospectors were able to whether the worst of the attack until morning light.
At dawn they assessed their situation. Seven men had been wounded, six were shot and one struck by an arrow. The worst of the lot was Ephraim Bostwick who had been shot five times and Cyprus D. Watkins who had been struck in the left cheek.
Stuart assumed the attackers had been Crow. He was most likely mistaken, the attackers were more than likely hostile Sioux. The men decided not to chance a retreat back to Bannack by way of their initial route. Instead, they decided to abandon most of their supplies and proceed with only five to six days’ rations. They would head for South Pass and Fort Bridger in southwestern Wyoming. Before they left the area, Bostwick who was in horrific pain, asked to be left behind with his revolver to fight off the hostiles. Not long after the party left him, he committed suicide.
Fight For Survival
The party headed southeast to Lodge Grass Canyon. On most of this journey they were shadowed by Indians who stayed out of gunshot range. They spent the night at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains.
On May 14th they headed southwest over rugged country where they finally shook off the Indians. Unfortunately on that day, Henry T. Geery shattered his shoulder when he accidentally triggered a shotgun hidden among the party’s blankets. He too committed suicide.
Over the following two days, the party was fooled by the terrain into thinking they were just a few miles from open country. Instead they found themselves crossing several canyons that were from 800 to 1,500 feet in depth. During this time they passed into Garvin Basin - probably the first white men to do so - and finally reached the top of Devil Canyon. Their time in the Bighorn Canyon country was drawing to a close.
The next ten days they fled south, wading through snow drifts and across barren, inhospitable country. Finally on May 28th they reached Pacific City at South Pass on the Oregon Trail. It would be nearly another month before they made it back to Bannack, arriving on June 22, 1863. The men were scarcely recognizable to their fellow citizens, after suffering such considerable hardships.
The Next Big Strike
Stuart’s expedition to the Bighorn did have long lasting significance in the history of the area. The party members soon spread the word in Bannack that traces of gold had been discovered along the banks and sandbars of the Bighorn River.
Over the next 30 years, various gold seekers would ply the region in a series of vain attempts to hit the next big strike. In 1891, gold was finally found in paying quantities, but not in the Bighorn Canyon area. Instead, just to the west in the Bighorn Mountains, a strike was made at Bald Mountain.