The Long First Winter
Work on the storehouses, quarters, and barracks continued through the fall and winter. The unit was redesignated as part of the 27th Infantry in November. Friendly relationships were established with the Crow, but Sioux harassment of soldiers and civilians when they were away from the fort itself resulted in the loss of four lives.
The snowy winter passed with infrequent mail. Stories were passed by the Crow to the soldiers at Fort C.F. Smith of the Fetterman Fight. Eighty-one soldiers who pursued attacking Sioux away from Fort Phil Kearney were lured to a larger force of Indians that killed them all on December 21st. Due to brutal winter weather, the details of the Fetterman Fight were not confirmed at Fort C.F. Smith until February 7, 1867. By May, the only food left at the fort was corn originally intended for the livestock. Life was hard and lonely at the isolated post.
On May 26th, a few Sioux charged the fort and ran off some horses. A detachment chased after them, but not far from the fort the soldiers stopped as they didn’t want a repeat of the fate suffered by the pursuing soldiers in the Fetterman Fight. A suitable flag pole was finally erected on June 1st, and the United States flag flew over the fort for the first time. A supply train finally reached Fort C.F. Smith on June 11th, and another company assigned to the fort accompanied them, but the harassment by the Sioux continued.
Friendship With The Crow
Many different people entered the adobe walls of Fort C.F. Smith. From August of 1866 until the summer of 1868, Fort C.F. Smith was garrisoned by soldiers of the 18th Infantry, which later became the 27th Infantry. The command of the fort changed hands several times and with one of these command changes, in the summer of 1867, came the first women and children to live within the fort’s perimeter.
A Crow by the name of Iron Bull was the mailman and his knowledge of the land, and of the Sioux, greatly improved the mail service. The Crow people were friendly towards the occupants of the fort, often trading goods and bringing news from the other settlements in the area. They also brought warnings of impending attacks by the Sioux and Cheyenne.
Lieutenant Colonel Luther P. Bradley arrived to take command on July 23, 1867, with two additional companies that were recently supplied with new .50-70 Allin-modified, breech-loading Springfield rifles. They also brought chests containing more of these new rifles to be issued to the men at Fort C.F. Smith. Just nine days later, these rifles played a major role in winning the Hayfield Fight.
On August 1, 1867, a haying party of nine men and a guard of twenty men were attacked in their log-fortified corral by approximately 800 Sioux. Repeated charges were beaten back. The Wagon Box Fight, near Fort Phil Kearney on August 2nd, was a defeat of other Sioux in a similar action. But these fights did not end the harassment by the Sioux.