June 1867

Letter of Carl Julius Adolph Hunnius

From Kansas Historical Society, Kansas Memory

June 1st, 1867

After a long delay at Fort Hays in the spring of 1867, Lt Colonel George Armstrong Custer finally set out to find Cheyennes warriors and other Dog Soldiers on June 1st. Custer’s delay was caused by a host of excuses, possibly to prevent any wrath from his superior, General Winfield Hancock. For example, spring storms had inundated the plains, desertions ran high in the 7th, and scurvy was rampant. On a personal level, Custer’s wife Libbie had arrived for a visit - possibly affecting Custer’s commitment to move out (and leave her behind).

A soldier with Hancock’s expedition left several notes on these events in early June of 1867. With the elaborate name of
Carl Julius Adolph Hunnius, he provided an enlisted man’s view of what was going on at the time. He mentions some of the challenges Custer faced, such as scurvy and high desertion rates. His mention of Kiowa chief Satanta is mentioned as “June 1 - Sa-tan-ta; stampedes animals at Ft. Dodge”. This is verified also from other reports from the time as well. Although disjointed, his notes provide a valuable window into the events of early June, 1867.

Transcriptions:

Sa-tan-ta (Kiowa Chief makes great talk. Genl H given Sa-tan-ta , Maj. Genl [XXX] [XXXX] to gain [time].

(June 1 - Sa-tan-ta; stampedes animals at Ft. Dodge) Ft. Larned & Ft. Hays (old) due N. [XXX] 2 days. Men have scurvy, Buffalo [hunted] , wild onions, many Deserters , with horse and each of 7th Cav. Scouts reports about 500 Indians near [XXXX] Sta. and [Dawner’s] Sta. Supposed Cheyennes.

Custer 300 m. for night attack, none found Buffalo? Custer taken for “Wild Bill”.

June 1st Genl Custer left Ft. Hays for Ft. McPherson on Platte River then to Fort Sedgwick [XXXX] down S. to Ft. Wallace.

Hays to McPherson Saline take Camp of Indians [disc] had Elk for meals.

Indian scoffed, hurrying ground. Rattle Snake [XXX], Major - Elliott, 7th Cav.

 
19th century photograph of Pawnee Killer
Pawnee Killer

June 24th, 1867

For three weeks in June of 1867, Lt Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry had been on a wild goose chase looking for Cheyenne and Lakota “Dog Soldiers”, who were responsible for raids throughout western Kansas. With Custer’s wife Libby being left behind (but with the protection of soldiers), Custer’s journey with his men took him north to Nebraska, and back south again from Fort McPherson. With inconclusive results so far, Custer was surprised on the morning of June 24th by a group of Dog Soldiers led by a warrior by the name of Pawnee Killer.


On the North Fork of the Republican River in south-west Nebraska, the 7th Cavalry had a running fight lasting most of the day. At one point during the battle, Captain Louis Hamilton (and Custer’s own brother Tom) followed a group of Dog Soldiers and became separated from the rest of the regiment. By the time Custer arrived with help, Hamilton and his soldiers had already fought off several attacks and were safely heading back.

Between the battle action, Custer and his officer’s met with Pawnee Killer and a few warriors for a truce. The meeting was inconclusive, as both sides were trying to gather what the intentions of the other were. The Dog Soldiers were suspicious Custer was gathering information to attack the villages of their families, and Custer was suspicious the Dog Soldiers were planning to attack him at any moment. In a classic miscommunication typical during the plains wars, both sides were distrustful of the other; leading to no end in the cycle of violence.

 
Lithograph of a naked, dead soldier with arrows pierced in his body.

From Harper’s Weekly, July 1867


June 26th, 1867

While Lt Colonel Custer’s expedition continued to probe through Nebraska and Kansas, an intense skirmish was raging to the south (well over 60 miles away) near Fort Wallace, Kansas. Custer left two of his companies behind in Kansas - one under Captain Albert Barnitz. The initial reason in being left behind was to protect railroad workers from Indian attacks. However, Barnitz and company G eventually made it to Fort Wallace. On the morning of June 26th, Barnitz and his roughly 50 soldiers were surprised much like Custer was on June 24th.

They were surprised by Cheyenne and Lakota Dog Soldiers, who initially ran off the stock from Pond Creek Station – just to the west of Fort Wallace. Barnitz and his men pursued, eventually finding themselves outnumbered by as many as 200 Dog Soldiers. The Dog Soldiers changed their usual battle tactics of riding in a circle. In this battle they formed in a line, imitating their enemy and charging headlong into the soldiers. Barnitz himself was impressed by the “magnificence of their display, as they sat with their plumed lances, their bows, and shields, and their gleaming weapons”.

The skirmish was considered a battle by Great Plains standards. Six U.S. Army soldiers were killed and six wounded. Barnitz described it as “quite a desperate little fight”. But like many of the clashes between the Cheyenne and U.S. military, the intention of these raids was not always known. As author William Chalfant deduces about the Dog Soldier intentions, “Their long-term strategy was a desperate hope to discourage the invaders and force them to take their roads and people away from their country. The fights at Fort Wallace and with the wagon train would be models for others to come”.


 

Last updated: June 18, 2018

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