An Account of

The Connor Battle

Introduction

No Indian wars battle stands alone. All had roots in years previous as the white frontier moved relentlessly westward, pushing the Plains Indian tribes into increasingly less territory. This caused conflict with the white intruders and increased that which had already existed for many years among the tribes.

It was the job of General Patrick E. Connor, Commander of the Powder River Expedition, to make war upon the Indians and punish them, so that they would be forced to keep the peace. Guides for the Connor expedition included the famous frontiersmen Jim Bridger and Mitch Boyer.
The Arapaho village of Black Bear is considered non-beligerent by historians today, though by reading Palmer’s diary it is apparent that the soldiers didn't care about this.
Connor's attack was probably influential in causing the Arapahoe to attack the Sawyer Expedition shortly after, to allay with the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Fetterman Fight the next year near Fort Phil Kearny, and to fight at the Battle of the Little Bighorn more than a decade later. The far reaching effects of these conflicts continued into the development of the reservation system (which placed the Arapaho tribe on the WInd River Reservation west of the Big Horn Mountains alongside their traditional enemies, the Shoshone!) and into relationships between tribes and non-Indian governments today.
A monument at the site in the southwestern end of the park, located at the south end of the town of Ranchester, now marks the area of the Indian encampment.

Excerpts from the Palmer Diaries in August 1865:

August 23, 1865
“the Big Horn Mountains lying right to our front, seem to be within rifle range, so very near that we could see the buffalo feeding on the foothills; the pine trees, rocks and crags appear very distinct, though several miles away. Fourteen miles from Crazy Woman’s Fork we struck the Bozeman wagon trail, made in 1864… from this point on to Montana, in fact along the whole base of the Rocky Mountains to the British Possessions, the country is perfectly charming, the hills all covered with a fine growth of grass, and every valley there is either a rushing stream or some quiet, babbling brook of pure, clear snow water, filled with trout, the banks lined with trees, wild cherries, quaking asp, some birch, willow, and cottonwood. No country in America is more picturesque than the eastern slope of the Big Horn Mountains.”

August 25, 1865
“25th. Broke camp at the usual hour; pushed on north, passing along the base of the above named mountains. Crossed several streams, one of which we named Coal Creek, because of the fact that near the center of the stream lay a block of coal about twenty-five feet long, eight feet thick and about twelve feet wide, the water having washed through a vein of coal that cropped out at this point. We found coal here enough to supply our forges and to enable the blacksmith to do some needed repairs.
Seven miles from Clear Fork, we came to a very pretty lake about two miles long and about three-fourths of a mile wide, which Major Bridger told us was De Smet Lake, named after Father De Smet. The Lake is strongly impregnated with alkali, in fact, so strong that an egg or potato will not sink if thrown into the water. Large, red bluffs are to be seen on both sides, and underneath the lake is an immense coal vein. Not many miles from this lake is a flowing oil well. A scheme might be inaugurated to tunnel under this lake, pump the oil into the lake, set the tunnel on fire and boil the whole body of alkali water and oil into soap.
Made our camp on the Piney Fork of the Powder River about two miles below the present site of Fort McKinney, where there is now a flourishing city known as Buffalo, county seat of Johnson County Wyoming. Just after we had gone into camp, a large band of buffalo that had been aroused by our flankers, came charging down the hill directly into the camp. Many of them turned aside, but several passed through among the wagons, much to the dismay of our animals, most of which were tied to the same, taking their meal of grain. One monstrous bull got tangled in the ropes of one of our tents, and was killed while trampling it in the dust.
August 26,1865
“26th. Left Piney Fork at 6 o’clock a.m. Traveled north over a beautiful country until about 8 a.m., when our advance reached the top of the ridge dividing the waters of the Powder from that of the tongue River. I was riding in the extreme advance in company with Major Bridger. We were two thousand yards at least, ahead of the General and his staff; our Pawnee scouts were on each flank, and a little in advance; at that time there was no advance guard immediately in front. As the Major and myself reached the top of the hill, we involuntarily halted our steeds. I raised my field glasses to my eyes and took in the grandest view that I had ever seen. I could see the north end of the Big Horn Range, and away beyond the faint outline of the mountains beyond the Yellowstone. Away to the northeast the Wolfe River Range was distinctly visible. Immediately before us lay the valley of Peno Creek, now called Prairie Dog Creek, and beyond the Tongue River Valley and many other tributary streams. It was clear and bright, not a breath of air stirring.

The old Major, sitting on his horse with his eyes shaded with his hands, had been telling me for an hour about his Indian life—his forty years experience on the plains—telling me how to trail Indians and distinguish their tracks from those of different tribes–a subject that I had discussed with him nearly every day. In fact, the Major and myself were close friends. His family lived at Westport, Missouri. His daughter, Miss Jennie, had married a personal friend of mine., Lieutenant Wiseman, and during the winter of 1863 I had contributed to help Mrs. Bridger and the rest of the family, all of which the Major had been acquainted with, which induced him to treat me as an old-time friend. As I lowered my glass the Major said:‘Do you see those ere columns of smoke over yonder?’ I replied:‘Where Major?’ to which he answered:‘Over there by the saddle;’ meaning a depression in the hills not unlike the shape of a saddle, pointing at the same time to point fully fifty miles away. I again raised my glass to my eye and took a long, earnest look, and for the life of me could not see any columns of smoke even with a strong field glass. The Major was looking without any artificial help. The atmosphere appeared to be slightly hazy in the long distance, like smoke, but there was no distinct columns of smoke in sight. Yet, knowing the peculiarities of my frontier friend, I agreed with him that there were columns of smoke, ad suggested that we had better get off our animals and let them feed until the General came up. This we did, and as soon as the General and his staff arrived, I called his attention to Major Bridger’s discovery. The General raised his field glass and scanned the horizon closely. After a long look he remarked that there were no columns of smoke to be seen. The Major quietly mounted his horse and rode on. I asked the General to look again, that the Major was very confidant that he could see columns of smoke which, or course, indicated an Indian village. The General made another examination and again asserted that there were no columns of smoke. However, to satisfy my curiosity, and to give our guides no chance to claim that they had shown us an Indian village and we would not attack it, he suggested to Captain Frank North, who was riding with the staff, that he go with seven of his Indians in the direction indicated, to reconnoitre and to report to us on Peno Creek or Tongue River, down which we were to march. I galloped on and overtook the Major, and as I came up to him overheard him remark about ‘these damn paper collar soldiers’ telling him there were no columns of smoke. The old man was very indignant at our doubting his ability to out-see us, with the aid of field glasses even. The joke was too good to keep, and i had to report it to the General. In fact, I don’t believe the Major saw any columns of smoke, although it afterwards transpired that there was an Indian village in the immediate locality designated. Bridger understood well enough that that was a favorable locality for Indians to camp, and that at most anytime there could be found a village there. Hence his declaration that he saw columns of smoke.
Our march down Peno Creek was uneventful, the road being very good, much better than we had before found. Our camp that night was in a valley of the Peno Creek, not far from Tongue River, sixteen miles from Big Piney.

Continuation Page 2

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