In planning the Winter Campaign of 1868-69, General Phillip Sheridan's first choice to serve as scouts for the expeditionary force into the Indian Territory were members of the Kaw Nation. However, Kansas Governor Samuel J. Crawford suggested that Sheridan should consider selecting the Osage Indians instead. He reasoned that the Osage were closely related to the Kaw, but that they were more familiar with the terrain of the Indian Territory. They were also fierce enemies of the Cheyenne and Arapaho with whom they were in a state of continuous war.
Sheridan agreed and ordered the Osage to Camp Forsyth. There, the Quartermaster issued each man a blouse and a cavalry hat with tassel. This was done in order "to distinguish these Indians from those of the "hostile tribes." In addition, the Osage, who "looked as savage as the enemy we seek," were issued eight hundred rounds of cartridges for the campaign.
Two Osage chiefs, Hard Rope and Little Beaver (aka John Beaver or Little Beaver II), led 12 Osage scouts. Chief Hard Rope had previously distinguished himself on May 15, 1863 during the Civil War when he fought against 20 Confederate soldiers on banks of the Verdigris River in southeastern Kansas.
The Osage contingent, in addition to the white scouts, soon proved their worth in Sheridan's Winter Campaign. An example of this was as the 7th US Cavalry was following a promising trail down the Washita River Valley, the Osage reported that they smelled smoke. They soon discovered a smoldering campfire, and surmised that it had been left by boys assigned to watch an Indian pony herd. This significant clue meant that an Indian camp was nearby.
As Custer's cavalrymen prepared for the upcoming fight, the Osage withdrew from the main force. They feared that if things went against the 7th US Cavalry and the camp they were poised to attack proved too strong, the Osage would be offered up as hostages in exchange for the trooper's safe passage from the field of battle.
According to Ben Clark, Custer's head scout, the blame for the killing and mutilation of Cheyenne women and children at the Battle of the Washita lay squarely upon the Osage scouts because of past atrocities committed against them by the Cheyenne. Custer ordered Clark to stop the killing. The Osage then grabbed tree branches and bushes and beat the fleeing women and children back into the camp.
Later that night, the regiment made its way back to Camp Supply. Prior to the triumphal entry into the fort, Custer placed the Osage at the head of the column arrayed in full war paint. Over their shoulders were shields and quivers full of arrows. In their hands, they carried rifles and lances festooned with the scalps of fallen Cheyennes. In their hair they wore silver ornaments looted from the Cheyenne. Later that night in defiance of the freezing cold, they held a Scalp Dance around a huge bonfire to celebrate this monumental victory over their enemies. That spring, the Osage scouts were disbanded upon their arrival at Fort Hayes, Kansas.
Last updated: August 7, 2020