Hiram Dryer

Black and white photograph of Hiram Dryer.
Major Hiram Dryer

Public Domain

The command situation Maj. Dryer inherited at Fort Larned was less than desirable as well. Severe winter weather hindered the Army’s activities in the area while the continuing tension between the Indians and the White traders, as well as between the traders and the Army made it difficult for the officers and men at Fort Larned to do their job. The main cause of friction between the civilians and the military was the Army stopping traffic along the Santa Fe Trail for safety reasons. The traders saw this as undue interference with their ability to conduct business in the area. In their view, the military had no business restricting their movements, even if the restrictions were for their own protection.

Hiram Dryer was born in New York in 1809. He enlisted in the Army in 1846 at the start of the Mexican War, eventually rising to the rank of 1st Sergeant. By the end of the war in 1848, he had been brevetted to 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry. After the war, Dryer spent several years at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, until the 4th was sent to the west coast in 1852. In the days before the transcontinental railroad the only way to get west was either a trek across the interior or across the much shorter distance of the Isthmus of Panama. Cholera broke out almost as soon as the 4th reached Panama, killing 104 men and 1 officer before they crossed to Pacific side of South America.

In 1859, now with the permanent rank of 1st Lieutenant, Dryer married Alice Garrison of Detroit. They returned to the west coast in early 1860 by way of the isthmus and took up residence at Fort Yuma in Arizona Territory where Dryer was stationed until the Fall of 1861. In May of that year, he was promoted to Captain.

In the Fall of 1861, the 4th U.S. was ordered east, arriving in New York just before Christmas. After a brief period of leave, the regiment was assigned to the 5th Army Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. George Sykes for service in the Civil War. Dryer would be brevetted twice during the war, the first time to major on Dec. 13, 1862, for gallantry and meritorious service during the Battle of Fredericksburg and the second time to lieutenant-colonel on May 3, 1863, for the same reasons during the Battle of Chancellorsville. He received his permanent rank of major on Feb. 2, 1865.

Shortly before the war ended, Maj. Dryer was transferred west with the 22nd Infantry. The regiment spent the summer of 1865 at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Ohio. They were sent to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, in the fall. Shortly after their arrival there they received orders sending them to Fort Larned.

Besides dealing with Santa Fe Trail merchants who didn’t want conditions placed on the protection the Army provided for them, there were still Native Americans to deal with. The return of regular troops on the frontier didn’t mean the end of trouble with Indians in the area. Dryer asked Col. William Bent, who was living with a band of Indians at Mulberry Creek to keep him informed of the Indians movements and intentions. One problem Bent reported is that Kiowas, Comanches and Arapahos were stealing horse and cattle in Texas, driving them up to Kansas and selling them to Mexican and White traders at the campsite at Mulberry Creek. Bent asked the traders to stop buying the horses and cattle, which only encouraged the Indians to buy more and told Maj. Dryer that he was afraid “…the government will have to give the Kiowas and Comanches a drubbing before the summer is over.”

Indian Agent Col. Jesse Leavenworth tried to bring peace to the warring Indian factions, who were fighting each other and the Whites moving into their homeland. He suggested that instead of chasing the trouble-making Indians with soldiers to make them stop (which only incited them more) the government should ask the less hostile Indians to try and persuade the tribes on the war path to stop their hostile actions.

Leavenworth had determined that some Cheyenne “Dog Soldier” bands, along with a few Arapho and Sioux warriors, were responsible for many of the raids along the Smokey Hill and Santa Fe Trails. Whenever soldiers tried to track them down they simply broke up into smaller groups and disappeared into the countryside. Clearly trying to chase them down with the military would not work.

On February 28, 1866, conditions along the Santa Fe Trail were so bad that the Military Department of the Missouri halted all travel along the route between Forts Larned and Union unless the trains had at least 20 wagons and 40 armed men. Col. Leavenworth’s suggestion to try and bring some peace to the area was to pay the friendly, non-hostile Indians to go to the more hostile tribes and essentially bribe them with goods, weapons and food provided by the government in order to get them to stop their raids.

In the same month, Maj. Dryer had gone with Special U.S. Agent to the Plains tribes, Maj. Edward Wynkoop, taking 14 wagonloads of supplies to Indians camped 75 miles southeast of Fort Larned. On the way Dryer received a note from the commander of Fort Dodge asking him to investigate the death of a White boy by Indians. After looking into the matter, he determined the boy’s father was partly responsible because he had swindled the Indian who committed the murder. The Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle assured Maj. Dryer the perpetrator would be handed over to the Army as soon the rest of the Northern Cheyenne made peace with the Whites.

On March 1, 1866, Maj. Wynkoop signed a treaty with the Dog Soldiers and handed out annuity goods to them. Maj. Dryer used this occasion to suggest that post commanders once again be allowed to legally inspect all public and private wagon trains to ensure contraband goods weren't slipping through.

Maj. Dryer left Fort Larned in April and was relieved by Lieutenant James Cahill, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, who assumed command on April 26, 1866. He went on to command Fort Randall, further north on the Missouri River in Dakota Territory. During the first week of March 1876, Maj. Dryer caught a severe cold that later developed into pneumonia. He died suddenly at 7:00 pm on March 5, 1867. He was one month shy of 58 years old at the time of his death and was buried in Detroit. Fellow officer Lt. William McCaskey wrote to his brother a few days after Dryer’s death that he had met “but few men in my time to whom I have become so attached…The Col. (Bvt. Rank) was a dear good friend to me. Always kind and friendly, his family as well as the whole command are grief stricken.”

The year started with regular Army troops returning to Fort Larned, and the rest of the frontier forts. With the Civil War over, Washington could turn its attention back to the task of protecting white settlers and traders, as well as trying to pacify the Plains Indians, who still resented the invasion of their lands. The Army had a delicate balancing act ahead for 1866 in carrying out government policy on the frontier.

Last updated: February 14, 2024

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