An Account of

The Connor Battle

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Excerpts from the Palmer Diaries in August 1865:

August 27th and 28th, 1865
“27th and 28th. Traveled down Peno Creek and tongue River, country near the river, very barren—no grass. After camping, four of the Omaha scouts went but a short distance from the camp and met a grizzly, which they very imprudently fired upon. The grizzly closed upon them, killing one of the scouts and fearfully mangling two others before a relief party of the same company could drive away the bear.
Just after sunset of this day, two of the Pawnees who went out with Captain North toward Bridger’s columns of smoke two days previous, came into camp with information that Captain North had discovered an Indian village. The General immediately called me to his tent and instructed me to take command of the camp, keeping the wagons in the corral, protect the stock and hold the position until he should return—that he was going out to fight the Indians. I had never been baptized with Indian blood, had never taken a scalp, and now to see the glorious opportunity pass was too much. So, with tears in my eyes, I begged of the General to allow Lieutenant Brewer, of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, whom I knew had just reported to me as very sick, to remain with the train and that I be allowed to accompany him in the glorious work of annihilating the savages. The General granted my request.
The men were hurried to eat their supper, just then being prepared, and at 8 o’clock p.m. we left camp with two hundred and fifty white men and eighty Indian scouts as the full attacking force. From our calculation as to distance, we expected to strike the village at daylight on the morning of the 29th. Our line of march lay up the valley of the Tongue River and after we had passed the point where our wagons had struck the stream, we found no road, but much underbrush and fallen timber; and as the night was quite dark, our march was greatly impeded, so that at daylight we were not within many miles of the Indian village.
The General was much disappointed at this delay, which compelled us to keep closely under cover, and in many instances to march along the water’s edge under the river bank in single file, to keep out of sight of the Indians. I had worked myself to the extreme advance, and like, possible, many others in the command, had begun to think that there was no Indian village near us, and that we would have no Indians to fight. Arriving at this conclusion, I had become somewhat reckless, and had determined that Captain North, who had joined our command soon after we left camp, should not reach the Indian village in advance of myself. As we rode along close together conversing, I managed to forge in ahead of him just as we dropped down into a deep ravine; the bank on the side just beyond the stream was much higher than the bank from which we came, and the trail led up this steep bank.
As i rode up the bank and came to the top, my eyes beheld a sight as unexpected to me as a peep into shoel. Just before me lay a large mesa, or table land all covered with Indian ponies, except a portion about one-half mile to the left, which was thickly dotted with Indian tepees full of Indians. Without a moment’s hesitation, I grasped the bits of my horse with my right hand, and his nostrils with my left, to prevent him from whinnying, threw myself from the saddle, dragging the horse down the bank against Captain North’s horse, and whispered to him that we had found the village. Captain North held my horse while I ran back motioning the men to keep still. In fact, the General had issued orders when we left camp, that no man should speak above a whisper and that when the horses attempted to whinny, they should be jerked up with a tight rein. During the last one half hour of our march, several men had become somewhat careless, and were not as cautious as they had been during the night.
I soon met the General, who was close to the advance, and told him of my discovery. The word was passed back for the men to close up and to follow the General, and not to fire a shot until he fired in advance. General Connor then took the lead; rode his horse up the steep bank of the ravine and dashed out across the mesa as if there were no Indians just to the left; every man followed as closely as possible. At the first sight of the General, the ponies covering the table land in front of us set up a tremendous whinnying and galloped down toward the Indian village. More than a thousand dogs commenced barking, and more than seven hundred Indians made the hills ring with their fearful yelling.
It appeared that the Indians were in the act of breaking camp. The most of their tepees were down and packed for the march. The ponies, more than three thousand, had just been gathered in, and most of the warriors had secured their horses; probably half of the squaws and children were mounted, and some had taken up the line of march up the stream for a new camp. They were Arapahoes under Black Bear and Old David, with several other chiefs not so prominent. The General watched the movements of his men until he saw the last man emerge into line. The whole line then fired a volley from their carbines into the village without halting their horses, and the bugles sounded the charge. Without the sound of the bugle there would have been no halt by the men in that column; not a man but realized that to charge into the Indian village without a moments hesitancy was our only salvation. We already saw that we were greatly outnumbered, and that only desperate fighting would save our scalps.
I felt for a moment that my place was with the train; that really I was a consummate fool for urging the General to allow me to accompany him. I was reminded that i had lost no Indians, and that scalping Indians was unmanly, besides being brutal, and for my part I did not want any dirty scalps; yet, I had no time to halt; I could not do it—my horse carried me forward almost against my will, and those few moments—less than it takes to tell the story—I was in the village in the midst of a hand to hand fight with warriors and their squaws, for many of the female portion of this band did as brave fighting as their savage lords. unfortunately for the women and children, our men had no time to direct their aim; bullets from both sides and murderous arrows filled the air; squaws and children, as well as warriors, fell among the dead and wounded.
The scene was indescribable. there was not much of the military in our movements; each man seemed an army by himself. Standing near the ‘sweat house,’ I emptied my revolver into the carcasses of three warriors. One of John Morgan’s men, a fine looking soldier with as handsome a face as I ever saw on a men, grabbed me by the soldier and turned me about that I might assist him in withdrawing an arrow from his mouth. The point of the arrow had passed through his open mouth and lodged in the root of his tongue. Having no surgeon with us of a higher rank than a hospital steward, it was afterwards, within a half hour, decided that to get the arrow out of his mouth the tongue must be, and was, cut out. The poor fellow returned to camp with us and at this late date I am unable to say whether he lived or died.
Another man, a sergeant in the Signal Corps, by the name of Charles M. Lantham, was shot in the heel. He had been through the entire ware in the Army of the Potomac, and wore a medal for bravery, had passed through many battles and escaped unharmed. This shot in the heel caused his death; he died a few days afterward with lock-jaw.
The Indians made a brave stand trying to save their families, and succeeded in getting away with a large majority of their women and children, leaving behind them nearly all their plunder. They fled up a stream now called Wolf Creek, General Connor in close pursuit. Soon after we left the village General Connor advised me to instruct Captain North to take his Indians and get all the stock he could possible gather. This was done, and with a few stragglers I followed a small band of Indians up the main Tongue River about three miles, until they gathered recruits enough to turn upon us and force us back.
General Connor pursued the fleeing savages fully ten miles from camp, when he found himself accompanied by only fourteen men; our horses had all become so fatigued and worn out that it was impossible to keep up. The General halted his small squad and attempted to take the names of his brave comrades, when the Indians, noticing the paucity of his numbers, immediately turned upon him and made a desperate effort to surround him and his small squad of soldiers. They fell back as rapidly as possible, contesting every inch, reinforced every few minutes by some stragglers who had endeavored to keep up. With this help they managed to return to camp, where Captain North and myself had succeeded in corralling about eleven hundred head of ponies. One piece of artillery had become disabled. The axeltree of the gun carriage, a mountain howitzer was broken. We left the wheels and broken axle near the river and saved the cannon.

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