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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 3
September, 1927
A VERSION OF A FAMOUS BATTLE

By F. M. LOCKARD.

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An account of the Battle of the Arickaree appeared in the Kansas City Star for January 30, as told by H. A. Williams, who claims to be a Forsyth scout. The following version of the battle, which contradicts many of the facts set forth by Williams, was written by F. M. Lockard.


I think it was Henry Ford who said, "All history is bunk."

The Kansas City Star, of Sunday, January 30, has a well written story of the battle of the Arickaree which contains the version of H. A. Williams, who says he was Forsyth scout.

There is nothing unusual in this as every once in a while some old plainsman bobs up with the same claim. Only recently a Des Moines paper published an account of this battle from the pen of an old timer who signed himself, "Yellowstone Mike." He claimed he was a Forsyth scout and in the battle. Of course all the Forsyth scouts that are living are well known and these old-timers who have been on the frontier for sixty years, who now pass as Forsyth scouts, are not to be criticised too severely. They have all had adventures and the public is willing to indulge them a little in romance, but they all make the same mistake when they describe the battleground. Forsyth was turned around when he wrote, "Thrilling Days of Army Life," and these new heroes show clearly that all they know about it, they got from Forsyth’s story.

It will be remembered that Forsyth was shot very early in the morning, probably before sunrise. He lay there in a pit dug out in the sand for nine days and was then carried away in an ambulance and was not back again until long after writing his story. Thirty years after the battle he wrote the story almost entirely from memory. He had scarcely seen that ground in daylight so he described the Roman Nose charge as coming from the east.

All the various "heroes" follow the Forsyth story. Many

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of the Forsyth scouts who wrote of this battle, read the stories of Sigmund Schlesinger, John Hurst, Thomas Murphy, J. J. Peate, Howard Morton and several others. They all describe the charge as coming from the northwest, which is correct.

Some ten years after writing his book, Forsyth came back and attended the dedication of the monument. Nothing looked familiar too him, but after looking around for a time, he got his bearings and in his speech expressed regret that he had not come back before he wrote the story.

Some thirty years ago a fiction writer said that Jack Stilwell shot Roman Nose. This seemed reasonable in view of the fact that Roman Nose approached the island from the east and Stilwell, being concealed in a pit at the east end, who, if not he, could have fired the shot?

This piece of fiction has been repeated a thousand times since that and is followed even unto this day by writers who get their impressions of that battle from an unreliable source. Since that, many of the Forsyth scouts have written the story and not one of them ever mentioned Jack Stilwell in connection with the fall of Roman Nose.

Roman Nose was killed at the west end of the island and the scouts who were doing the fighting all knew that the shot that killed him did not come from the east end where Stilwell lay.

The scouts did not know what tribe they were fighting nor what chiefs were in command when Roman Nose fell. They only knew a great chief had fallen and it was long after that they learned it was Roman Nose. Early in the morning Grover said to Forsyth, "The Brule Sioux, the Arapahoes, the Northern Cheyennes, the Southern Cheyennes and the Dog soldiers are all here. There are more than 1,000 warriors on the ground."

Forsyth, fearing the effect of such talk might un-nerve the scouts, replied, "No, Grover, you are mistaken, there are not more than five hundred and we are strong enough for them."

All Indians look alike to the average man, but Grover knew Indians and may have seen the braves from all these tribes before him, but he was probably only guessing because he had bad nerves at that time himself. Just as day was breaking Forsyth saw a chief that attracted his attention and

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he inquired of Grover, "Is not that large chief, Roman Nose?" Grover replied, "It is, and there is not another such Indian on these plains." However, that was a mistake; Roman Nose did not arrive on the battle ground until the middle of the forenoon.

The battle had raged for several hours before Roman Nose got there. The horses had all been killed and several of the scouts had been killed or wounded before Roman Nose appeared.

Roman Nose had a bad dream the night before the battle. He did not want to fight at that time. Just before donning his war bonnet, to lead the charge, he told the Indians that he would be killed that day. The Indian version of that incident is told by George Bird Grinnell in the "Fighting Cheyennes."

Sigmund Schlesinger says, "We did not know what tribe or what chiefs we were fighting."

During the nine days the scouts spent on the island there was much talk and some sharp disputes about identity of the Indians, but no one knew for certain.

When the scouts came to write their stories they all mention the fall of Roman Nose and Medicine Man, but if those same stories had been written immediately after the battle, neither of the chiefs, nor any other, would have been mentioned by name.

When the scouts were organized there were hundreds of men around Forts Harker and Hays who offered their services. Many of them were outlaws, hiding out from eastern sheriff’s, many others without experience were seeking adventure and excitement. Forsyth wanted none of them. J. J. Peate was at that time a scout and had established himself in the eyes of the officers.

Sheridan sent him to the Saline for recruits. Peate enlisted more than half of Forsyth’s company from Lincoln and Ottawa counties. Another historic fact, not heretofore recorded, is that every man Peate recommended was enlisted and every one of them proved to be a good shot, brave and reliable and even in their darkest hour not one of them flinched or showed the white feather.

Forsyth marched from Hays on August 29, with fifty-three men. As they entered Wallace, one week later, a horse

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fell on Wallace Bennett and broke his leg, so he had to be left there in the hospital. J. H. Ketterer was taken sick while at Wallace and he also was left. Another scout, named G. W. Chambers, was left as nurse for the two sick men. That left but fifty, but Sharp Grover, who was chief of scouts, joined them at Wallace, and a new man, named Jim Curry, was taken on in place of Wallace Bennett, so the command numbered fifty-two when they left Wallace.

Bennett recovered, but was killed by Indians later in the Indian Territory. Ketterer and Chambers or Chalmers, as the name is spelled both ways, retired from the service and are not mentioned again, so I never knew what became of them. The monument at Beecher Island has only fifty-one names upon it but on the day it was dedicated, September 17th, 1906, Sigmund Schlesinger discovered that the name of Jim Curry was omitted. That was explained in this way. The scouts were enlisted as employees of the quartermaster. The quartermaster was Major Henry Inman, at Fort Harker. Jim Curry, having enlisted at Wallace, while the scouts were on the way out and discharged there while on the way back, his name had never reached Major Inman. Curry was known by only two or three men in the company and had been forgotten. The official roster was followed when the monument was lettered, so Curry was overlooked.

When I first discovered the omission it occurred to me that it was done on purpose. Curry was what they called, "Wild and Woolly." He became an outlaw, he was a degenerate; to see men struggle and die delighted his soul. He was a railroad engineer by profession. One of his pastimes was to shoot men from the cab of his engine just to see them jump. It is said he killed three men and wounded others in that way. He killed several at Hays and other points while he lived in Kansas. No one loved him and all seemed to fear him. He left Kansas about 1870 and the next we hear of him he had a run on the International and Great Northern in Texas. He was known down there as a drunkard, gambler and desperado.

He attended a vaudeville show one night at Palestine, Texas. One of the actors cracked a joke from the stage, using the name of Jim Curry. This offended Curry, who met the actor, John Barrimore, after the show, and killed him.

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Curry was tried for this but acquitted on some technicality. At one time the railroad tried the experiment of using colored men for firemen. Curry announced that if they ever sent a "nigger" out with him, he would kill him. Sure enough, a "nigger" was sent. Curry killed him, then put the body in the fire box of the engine, and consumed it. He boasted of this but was never arrested for it. Killing negroes was not considered criminal in Texas at that time. He was afterward killed in a railroad wreck at Troupel, Texas, and buried at Tyler, Texas.

The names of the fifty-two men, with the exception of Curry, are on the monument. It has stood there more than twenty years and thousands of people visit there each year. The names of the Forsyth scouts are as familiar in the West as the names of the twelve apostles. The name "Yellowstone Mike" and H. A. Williams are not on that stone.

I am indebted to F. B. Campbell, of Altamont, Kansas, for the history of Jim Curry while in Texas. Campbell knew him at Denison, Texas, forty-five years ago.

These old timers, who try to shine for a brief minute in the reflected glory of the Forsyth scouts, have for the most part forgotten their names and I suppose they imagine others have forgotten as well, but that is wrong. Others have not forgotten. Forsyth was lying on his back in a shallow pit, near the center of the island with his head toward the east. When he raised his head to look around he was looking west. He supposed it was east, hence the confusion in his description. When Roman Nose was arming his battalion for the grand charge, Grover asked him if he could see them. "Perfectly" replied Forsyth, "and it is a grand sight."

Forsyth remained in command clear through, but at one time while in a paroxysm of pain he muttered, "Beecher is dead, Grover must take command." But he rallied and nothing more was said, but Grover was already under suspicion, and had he taken command there would have been mutiny.

The battle opened before daylight in an attempt to stampede the horses. This was successful in part, the pack mules and a few horses were taken. A moment later the order to occupy the island came, but three of the scouts, Louis Farley, George Green and Frank Harrington, having lost their horses, found a pocket in the river bank on the north side and dropped

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into it. There they remained during the first day of the battle. They were all wounded, Farley with a shot in the thigh that broke the bone and from which he died none days later. They all continued to fight, however, and from their point of vantage killeed several Indians. When the great charge came Roman Nose rode directly toward these men and was shot just as he reached them and it is probable the shot that killed him came from that hole.

In a foot-note in the Williams story, the editor of the Star points out that the Williams’ narrative must be true because it is corroborated by Winfield Freeman and Hill P. Wilson. This writer talked with Mr. Freeman about his story in 1924. I knew Mr. Freeman was a careful and reliable historian and wrote nothing but what he believed to be the truth. He said he got the story mostly from the scouts. I then asked him who told him that Dull Knife was killed inn that battle. He said, "The late Ben Clark."

Ben Clark had lived with the Cheyennes many years and had married a Cheyenne woman. During his last years he was official interpreter at Darlington near old Fort Reno.

General Sheridan asked Clark to write a history of the Cheyennes for him. This he did but it was never published. After Clark died George Bird Grinnell bought the manuscript but he found it so exaggerated and untruthful that he could not use it.

I told Mr. Freeman that Dull Knife was the most celebrated and well-known Cheyenne during the ’70s and ’80s and it was he who led a band of cut-throats across Kansas in 1878, killing many settlers on the Sappa and Beaver in Decatur and Raulins counties. Mr. Freeman thought this was another Dull Knife, perhaps a son of the original Dull Knife.

Dull Knife had sons but none of them bore the poetical name of the father. There was but one Dull Knife and that was a nickname given him by the Sioux. His real name was Wa-he-iv (Morning Star) and he died of the infirmities of age on the reservation in Montana and only last year George Bird Grinnell placed a permanent marker over his grave.

Ben Clark must have known that Dull Knife did not die at Beecher Island. Mr. Freeman was skeptical of my story and afterward made inquiry of our Historical Society about it. One of the Forsyth scouts said to me, "The boys must

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have been in a joking mood when they told Freeman that story because it is wrong in several spots."

When darkness came and the fighting ceased the night of September 17, the wounded were brought in and cared for. The scouts gathered around Forsyth to consider their condition. Forsyth said, "Some one must go to Wallace for assistance." Freeman and Williams both say that Grover offered to go. That is not true. When Forsyth wrote his story he was at peace with the world. He could not bear the thought of criticizing anybody. He should have told the whole truth but he suppressed much important history. Here is what occurred at that council. Grover said, "It is impossible to get out. Those Indians have us surrounded, if they catch me they will burn me." Yes, no doubt they would. So they would Stilwell and Trudeau if they had caught them.

Forsyth said, "Grover knows Indians and knows the country. He should go." But Grover said positively, "No." Then Stilwell came forward and said, "Let me choose the man to go with me and I will go." Grover said, "Jack is too young and inexperienced, he can’t get through." But Forsyth took out his daybook, tore off the fly leaf and wrote a note to General Bankhead at Fort Wallace, handed it to Stilwell, and told him to go. Pierre Trudeau went with him. Many of the writers say that Grover wanted to go but the scouts objected because Grover was needed on the Island. This is not true. Grover said that the country south of them was rough and that wagons could not get through. This was all wrong. Another thing that showed that Grover did not know the country was when he said that they were on Delaware Creek and Forsyth said the same in his note to Bankhead. This error led to confusion and delayed the rescue party. The scouts all wanted Grover to go and all lost confidence in him when he refused.

Stilwell and Trudeau crawled away in the early morning of the eighteenth. Daylight overtook them when only three miles from the Island. They spent the day hidden under a bank within hearing of the guns at the battleground. Their only food was horse meat and that soon became tainted and affected their bowels. They became weak and at one time Trudeau said, "I can go no further." He was so weak he could scarcely stand without assistance but after resting

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they moved slowly on, arriving late on September 22, four days after leaving the island.

General Bankhead notified Sheridan by wire at Hays, who ordered a relief party to start at once. They got away from Wallace at midnight on the same day, one hundred infantry riding in wagons, the officers in ambulances, and several scouts, including Stilwell and Trudeau, on horseback.

Homer W. Wheeler, who was a clerk in the store of the post trader, went along. He later wrote a book, in which he says, "We went through in two days." Other writers speak highly of Bankhead and praise him for his promptness in relieving Forsyth, but the truth, when written, tells a different story.

Bankhead was a drinking man and got drunk every day. By noon or a little later he became drowsy and would order a halt while he took a nap. It was always night before he became sober, then they would not start until the next morning. This happened every day and it was after noon on September 26 when they reached the Island, full four days after leaving Wallace.

Luckily, Colonel Carpenter had arrived with a doctor on the twenty-fifth, otherwise Forsyth would have died. His wounds were festered and gangrene had appeared. He could not have lived without medical aid until Bankhead arrived..

I suppose it is unethical for an army officer to write critically of his superiors, possibly that is why Forsyth did not mention it but he knew and hundreds of others knew, and some of them are living yet. The scouts all knew and often talked about it, but none of them wrote it. Stillwell and Trudeau were so disgusted with Bankhead that they rode on and left him on the morning of the twenty-sixth. Carpenter sent a detachment to look for Bankhead. This detachment met Stilwell and Trudeau several miles in advance of Bankhead on their way to the battleground

Freeman’s story is well written and for the most part true, but it also has many errors. He says there were 700 or 800 Indians killed, a great exaggeration.

The Indian’s account of the battle is very different from the white man’s story. Their story was gathered many years later after the older Indians, who had borne a conspicuous part in it, had passed on. They say Black Kettle did not

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want to fight. He pointed out that the previous year, 1867, Custer, with the Seventh Cavalry had invaded that country and if they killed these men, white soldiers would come and their best hunting ground be destroyed. Dull Knife, Turkey Legs, Long Bull and other Cheyenne chiefs, not named, and Pawnee Killer (Sioux) overruled him. An ambuscade was planned in which the death of all the Forsyth scouts was to be made certain. This ambuscade was planned for September 16 and would have come off as planned had Forsyth not providentially stopped early that day.

Black Kettle took his band south, starting at the end of the first day’s fighting. This is corroborated by Stilwell and Trudeau, who saw a large band moving south while they were on their way to Wallace.

During the second day of the battle the talk among the scouts turned to the fate of Stilwell and Trudeau. Grover felt sure they had not gotten through and most of the others agreed, so on the night of the eighteenth, two others, Donovan and Whitney, went out, but after crawling around some hours, they returned to the island, stating that it was impossible to get through. The night of the nineteenth Donovan and Pliley tried it and succeeded. They made their way to the stage road at Cheyenne Wells, arriving there in time to intercept the messenger sent by Bankhead to Colonel Carpenter. Carpenter was in camp at Lake Station, some miles west of Cheyenne Wells.

Donovan and Pliley caught the overland stage at this point and rode to Wallace, arriving there twelve hours after Bankhead had left.

The lieutenant in charge at Wallace, after he heard the story from Donovan and Pliley, decided to send a guide to Carpenter. Pliley was so worn out that he could not go, but Donovan said, "I will go if I have to crawl." Six men, led by Donovan, were mounted on government mules. They rode to the Republican without a halt. They reached that stream where the village of Hale now stands. Here they found Carpenter who had lost half a day supposing Forsyth to be on that stream. Donovan told him Forsyth was twenty miles north on the next stream. Bankhead had directed Carpenter to send his heavy wagons and the doctor, with an escort, to

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Wallace as he was taking a doctor from here, but providentially Carpenter disobeyed that order.

When Donovan came Carpenter split his command. Taking those with the best horses he made a dash across that divide reaching Forsyth at 11 a. m., on September 25. In the meantime General Sheridan, from Fort Hays, wired Fort McPherson, on the Platte, to send relief to Forsyth. A scout was sent to General Bradley, on the Frenchmen, who detached General Brisbin with sixty men, who marched to the Arickaree, arriving there late in the day of September 25, but eighteen hours ahead of Bankhead. The historians have the account of the relief parties badly mixed. This is the whole truth about it. The Hill P. Wilson story is worse than Mr. Freeman’s.

He says Black Kettle came to Fort Hays in 1868, went northeast, and the second day afterward massacred many people on Spillman Creek. There were no Indian raids on the Saline in 1868.

The Indians crossed that stream without being seen and began their raid on the Solomon in Mitchell County. Here they killed several settlers, stole horses and other livestock, and captured Mrs. Morgan. They then went to the Republican, killed the settlers and captured Miss Sarah White, then disappeared on the western plains.

This all happened long before the Forsyth scouts were organized and these women were rescued by Custer long after the Forsyth scouts had been disbanded. While Wilson wrote an interesting and, in a way, truthful story, his dates are wrong and the incidents he describes for the most part happened to other soldiers and are improperly credited to Forsyth.

The fighting was fast and furious from the beginning. Small parties dashed up to the island many times during the early morning, but they did little or no damage to the scouts. They divided and passed on both sides of the island when the scouts opened fire. Later they came on foot, crawling through the grass. The scouts who were killed and wounded got it from these snipers in the grass. They completely surrounded the island and some of them were killed at the east end, but no mounted charge came from that direction.

H. H. Tucker says Bernard Day killed Roman Nose and

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crawled on the sand bar where he lay, and scalped him. Tucker was old and forgetful when he wrote that story. He had been shot in the elbow and his arm was broken. He was lying in a pit nursing his wound, when he saw Scout Day shoot and scalp an Indian, but it was not Roman Nose. Roman Nose was not scalped. He fell on the sand at the west end just as his horse came down the river bank. He jumped back in the grass on the bank, was picked up by other Indians and carried away. He died at 10 p. m. that night.

Another piece of fiction appears in all the Beecher Island stories, to the effect that Forsyth called the scouts around him on September 24, and told them that all, who were able, should start for Wallace and save themselves from certain death by starvation.

This is what happened—Grover proposed to the scouts that they abandon the wounded and save themselves and some of the scouts agreed. Forsyth heard of this and called them to him. He made them a speech (one scout describes it as pathetic) winding up by telling them to go. McCall said, "Never, by Heaven; we have fought together and if need be we will die together." The matter was not mentioned again.

Colonel Carpenter wrote an account of the rescue many years later in which he told of finding an Indian tepee on the South Republican which contained the dead body of an Indian Chief which he concluded was Roman Nose but was mistaken. This was the body of Medicine Man. Roman Nose was buried on a scaffold. As the command was returning to Fort Wallace they saw many dead Indians in the canyons near the South Republican. Some of them were on shelves high up on the canyon walls, others were on scaffolds in the ravines. They were all pulled down and searched for valuable mementoes by the scouts and soldiers. Scout Schlesinger tells of getting a beautiful war bonnet for which he was offered $50 when he got to Wallace. This he refused and that night it was stolen. I have wondered if that was not Roman Nose although that did not occur to Schlesinger. It might have been; if it was not, no white man ever knew where Roman Nose was buried.

Back in those early years there lived at old tort Mc-

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Pherson a scout named John Nelson. He married a Sioux woman. She was said to be a sister of the great Brule chief, Spotted Tail. For many years John Nelson and his squaw traveled with the Buffalo Wild West Show. When the Wild West visited Cleveland, Scout Schlesinger visited the show. John Nelson told him at that time he was at the rescue of Forsyth, going there as scout for General Brisbane. Jack Stilwell afterward said Nelson was not there. This only shows that everybody that could was trying to pose as a Forsyth scout.

I knew John Nelson in the early days. When only a boy I carried mail to old Fort McPherson. I think I knew then that he was not a reliable historian, but I listened to his stories and believed them. I once heard him say his wife was with the Sioux at Beecher Island and watched the battle from Squaw Hill. She also said the Cheyennes had two white women captives at that time.

In later years, after I knew of the capture of Mrs. Alderdice and Mrs. Weichel, I concluded those must be the women that Squaw Nelson saw on the Arickaree and said so in a story which I wrote at that time.

One of the Forsyth scouts saw my story and promptly called me down, pointing out that Mrs. Alderdice and Mrs. Weichel were not taken until 1869, long after the battle of Beecher Island. The women Squaw Nelson saw might have been Mrs. Morgan and Miss White, although they could not have been on Squaw Hill or they would have remembered it. They saw no battles while in captivity. Custer rescued them, in March, 1869, and sent them home. Mrs. Morgan was in bad health and a little later gave birth to an Indian babe. This was mortifying and her mind failed. She died later in the asylum at Osawatomie.

Miss White married and raised a family. She is a widow now and lives at Jamestown, Kansas. Squaw Nelson supposed this battle was fought for the possession of those women and as they did not succeed she construed it a victory for the Indians. We have only the unsupported word of this squaw that Mrs. Morgan and Miss White were on the Arickaree at that time but we know they were in captivity among the Cheyennes somewhere on the plains.

There were two of the Forsyth scouts who failed when

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the test came. They lay low in their pits paralyzed with fear and never fired a shot. I don’t know whether the scouts suppressed their names by agreement or not but I do know they never told. These men were not Kansans. They were soldiers of fortune, picked up at Hays. The name of one of them was Joe Lane. He remained in Kansas for some years but held no intercourse with other scouts. Letters sent to him were not answered.

Five of the scouts, Beecher, Culver, Farley, Wilson and Doctor Moers were buried on the island. The next spring Captain Brown, with an escort, went back for the bodies. He found the remains of Culver and Farley, brought them to Wallace, where they were buried. The graves of Beecher, Wilson and Doctor Moers were empty. The Indians had taken them.

After they reached Wallace, Walter Armstrong died of his wounds. His body was taken east by friends. There were sixteen others wounded but they all recovered. The scouts were discharged at Wallace, October 5, 1868.

Some of them retired from the service, others joined the Pepoon scouts and others joined the Nineteenth Kansas, which was being organized at that time. This regiment was organized for a winter campaign to punish the Indians. They marched from Topeka to Camp Supply.

In one of the early volumes of the Kansas Historical Collections is an article by James R. Mead. He lived at Wichita, which was the last settlement on the route of the Nineteenth Kansas. General Sheridan had sent two guides to lead Colonel Crawford through. Mr. Mead talked with these guides and discovered they had never been over the routes. He then went to Colonel Crawford and told him it was very dangerous to start across there at that time of year with inexperienced guides and offered to furnish a man who knew the country. Colonel Crawford replied, "I have no funds to employ scouts so I must trust the scouts that Sheridan sends." Sure enough, just as Mead predicted, they got lost. A big snow storm overtook them. Forage and rations were exhausted. The men suffered much and many of the horses froze to death on the picket line.

They were wandering around bewildered in the Cimarron Canyon while Custer was fighting Black Kettle on the

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Washita. This was the very battle they had been organized to fight but they missed it. They remained in the service all winter. They suffered much from cold and exposure but saw but little fighting. The scouts that led them were Jack Stilwell and Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau died that winter at Fort Sill. Stilwell became a lawyer. He was U. S. Commissioner at Fort Sill until 1890. He then practiced law at Cody, Wyoming, and died of pneumonia, in 1903.

Sharp Grover was killed in a drunken brawl at Pond Creek in June, 1869. On April 5, 1869, Tall Bull made his raid on the Saline, murdered many on Spillman Creek and captured Mrs. Alderdice and Mrs. Weichel. This is the raid that Hill P. Wilson says was led by Black Kettle in 1868.

Black Kettle had been dead six months when this happened. All the Cheyennes were on the reservation except Long Bull and the Dog soldiers.

Six of the Forsyth scouts had not reached Wallace when Forsyth left. This was caused by a mistake in orders. They were with Colonel Carpenter and were with the rescue party. Their names are not on the monument. The youngest scout was Eli Zeigler, who was nineteen. Schlesinger and Stilwell were twenty. H. A. Williams was born in ’51 and would have been seventeen at that time but he was not there.

There are only three of the scouts living now. Sigmund Schlesinger at, Cleveland, Ohio, Thomas Murphy at Belle Plains, Kansas, and J. J. Peate at Beverly, Kansas.

(Copied from the Goodland News-Republic, Thursday, February 17, 1927.)

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