General Crook’s 1876 Powder River March – Sheridan Media
Power River Country
Last week saw the first leg of Crook’s walk from Fort Fetterman, up the Powder River, up the Tongue River and up to Rosebud Creek. According to newspaper accounts of the time, his men traveled over 400 miles of rugged and little explored country before returning to old Fort Reno.
On March 18, Major Reynolds, under Crook’s command, found and raided an Indian village near present-day Broadus, Montana. The Battle of the Powder River was poorly fought and helped solidify Sioux and Cheyenne resistance to American attempts to drive them back to reservations. But this is another story.
Wyoming Weekly Leader, April 15, 1876: Saturday March 11. — At 7 o’clock this morning the thermometer read 22 degrees below zero, and since that was the full capacity of the instrument, we had no way of telling how much colder it was. Despite the harsh weather, the animals fed all night on whatever grass they could get under the snow, which was thin and poor at best. They remained free until 8 o’clock, then the porters began to load the mules. By 10 a.m., the time of departure, the weather had moderated several degrees and the march descended the Prairie Dog River to the Tongue River, four miles, and down that last creek four miles further where good grass and lots of wood were found. , and General Crook decided to go to camp and give the animals a chance to graze the rest of the day.
Sunday, March 12, this morning was the coldest we have yet experienced, the mercury in the thermometer falling into the bulb, the same experience as yesterday, but the air was much cleaner, and Dr. Munn decided that the degree of cold would be correctly expressed as -3O. Command marched at 0930 and down the Tongue River. Five miles beyond, the gun at Tongue River was entered, and we traveled there all day, or until 5 p.m., when camp preparations were ordered. Fifteen miles of the 20 miles traveled today was along the barrel, which is narrow, irregular, full of sharp bends, and has groans of red sandstone and conglomerate 350 to 500 feet in height. We crossed the river 10 times on the ice, and the whole command marched considerable distances along the river on its thick layer of ice. About the middle of the barrel we found a piece of buffalo hide on a stick with a note running like this; “Up to the right buffalo.” The scouts had killed a huge bull bison, ripped out the best part of its flesh, and packed it onto their horses, so there wasn’t much left worthy of our attention. Louis Richard with his party of eleven half-breeds was sent to Rosebud Creek this morning to search for Indians, and Ben Clark, Frank Gruard (Grouard), the Kemoka, and about twenty others, came down the river about 15 miles below our present scouting camp near the mouth of Hanging Woman Creek. Both groups returned later that evening, having seen no signs of Indians.
Frank Grouard was Crook’s favorite scout. Grouard spent six years as a prisoner of Sitting Bull and could easily take on an Indian character. He occasionally dressed as an Indian to pass himself off as white or Indian. In a Laramie Daily Sentinel, January 1877, there is a little information about Grouard: Frank Gruard, General Crook’s main scout, does not wear long hair or a buckskin suit. He avoids, rather than the courts, notoriety.
Monday, March 11.—The thermometer was at zero this morning, with a cold northwest wind and about four inches of snow. We leave the camp at nine o’clock and continue our walk on the Tongue River. We passed through several recently abandoned Indian encampments, and at 3 p.m. captured a beautiful mule that had obviously wandered off from a village not far from us. Many indications served to convince us that we were not far from the Indians, and we entered the camp at 2:30 p.m. under small cliffs, after having traveled 13 miles. Scouts were sent three miles further downriver to follow the trail of the mule and were ordered to kill any Indians who might follow.
As night fell the scouts were sent up the river to reconnoiter, instructed to follow it, if necessary, to Yellowstone, about 50 miles distant, and bring back what they could find. Today at the mouth of the Hanging Woman River we saw six buffaloes and killed one whose meat was distributed throughout the camp. We also passed a cave which had been dug into the riverbank by the Indians to obtain red clay for painting. Crossed the river on ice seven times, and at our camp found plenty of timber, mostly dry poplar. The Indians felled huge quantities of this tree, almost destroying the main timber that these valleys provide.
The cliffs on either side have a dark, irregular fringe of scrub pines, cedars and junipers, and fat scrub flowers at the bottom. Guides say that there are countless trout in the Tongue River, and many soldiers have tried hard to entice these finny delights to bite on the bait suspended through holes dug in the ice. I haven’t heard of a fish being caught yet. Our food is fully frozen and must be thawed before it can be consumed.
Most of the time, the column looks like a procession of Santa Clauses, so much the beards and mustaches are covered with ice. To march into battle with banners flying and drums beating, to the roar of artillery and the sound of musketry, does not require half the courage and determination that must be exerted tirelessly to pursue mile after mile in a such inhospitable weather in wild and rugged terrain. country, a savage enemy, whose presence one is likely to know for the first time by a deadly bullet.
The scouts are well harnessed and do a good job. But there’s no denying that some of them, who have Indian wives, aren’t half as eager to meet the enemy now as they were when they were at Fort Fetterman. As each mile brings them closer to the hostile savages, their courage seems to weaken.
Among these cowards, however, are not such men as Ben Clark, Frank Gruard. Louis Richard, Little Bat (Baptiste Gagnier), and others. They display the qualities of courage, judgment, and composure which highly recommend them, and General Reynolds finds their services invaluable.
The weather in this area, 400 miles north of Cheyenne, appears to be totally unpredictable and would certainly baffle a meteorologist. If we go to bed at night with clear skies and a bright moon, we usually wake up to a snowstorm.
Tuesday, March 14.—Light snowfall this morning, and continued all day, with thermometer 0° below zero. Breaked camp at 9 am and traveled 10 miles along the river, camping near the mouth of Otter Creek, a small creek flowing into the Tongue River on the south side. Crossed that last creek five times today. I saw four buffaloes at the head of the column, and wounded one so badly that a detachment was sent to overhaul it and bring it back. his Springfield musket, only removing the head in each case. Camp has been pitched in a grove of dead poplars and ash trees, which make splendid fires, and the cattle find fair grass on the cliffs overhanging the river, though they must get it under the snow as best they can that he can. The Panther Mountains stretch along both sides of the river and consist of tall, tower-shaped, crenellated hills crowned with a dark fringe of pine trees. The formation consists exclusively of red and yellow sandstone to our knowledge, with no quartz, granite or other Paleozoic rock visible. Obviously this is not a gold region, the cheap cards on the contrary do not resist.
Wednesday March 12. “The scouts came back tonight. having reconnoitered the lower parts of the Tongue and Rosebud river valleys to the Yellowstone without finding any Indians. The signs seemed to indicate that all the villagers have moved to Powder River, and there accordingly we will resume our march tomorrow. Clear and pleasant weather today, after seven days of thunderstorms.
The animals had a good day of much needed grazing. Many pack mules are terribly sore, the flesh worn down to the ribs and buck-bones in patches as large as two hands. It takes about 30 mules for a company of cavalry, including those ridden by the porters, so that we have 366 mules to carry the food, ammunition, bedding, etc., for the expedition. Of the meat ration for the troops, only half of the supply was brought.
According to a Laramie Daily Sentinel in August 1876, the column consisted of over 2,100 fighters. He had 300 pack mules, 150,000 cartridges, 35,000 rations and no fodder. This is the lightest walking condition.
The journalist continues about the pack train: The right muleteer is hard to find, and out of a hundred men who claim to know it, not ten will usually be employed by an experienced packmaster. Of these, many served with General Crook in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Arizona, and can be ranked among the best. Yet even some of them are quite tired from the hard work and the weather.
I heard one of them say last night; “Well, boys, I think if next summer is a good season for laundry, my mom can do enough to keep me home. I don’t want that anymore. One of our masters of pack named Closter has been in the business for 26 years. His hair and beard are perfectly white, or the latter would be just a path of tobacco juice in the middle of it. He has a caring face, it’s a man of great originality and native strength of character.
They are all hard-fisted, honest and outspoken comrades, and enjoy excellent reputations throughout the command. Pack mules and good porters are a necessity for any successful campaign in a region as harsh and almost impassable as this. Expeditions will no doubt be required to follow this one, as it does not now seem likely that we will succeed in finding and removing the hostile Indians from this country. For all of these pack-trains will be the sole means of transporting army supplies.
General George Crook perfected the packing and use of mules during the Apache Wars and the Plains Indian Wars. Mules provided mobility for the army and were perfectly suited to the harsh western environment, given their sturdiness and sure footing. Mules eat less than horses and require less protein and roughage. Pack mules were used until World War II for packing in rough country.
After the Battle of the Powder River, General Crook and his men returned to Reno Cantonment on March 21 to make plans for the summer campaign.