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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 19, No. 3
September, 1941
GENERAL BENNET RILEY
Commandant at Fort Gibson and Governor of California

By Carolyn Thomas Foreman.

Page 225

No greater contrast in lineage can be imagined that that between Bennet Riley and Richard Barnes Mason. Riley was born of obscure parents while General Mason was descended from one of the most distinguished families of Virginia, yet both served their country in the United States Army in several wars; fought on the western frontier; commanded the post at Fort Gibson; became Governor of California, and left reputations as brave soldiers and distinguished executives.

Riley claimed Virginia as his native state but authorities differ as to his birthplace; both Alexandria, Virginia and St. Mary's County, Maryland are named in biographical dictionaries. These sources agree that he was born November 27, 1787, although a sketch of the officer prepared in the Adjutant General's Office gives 1790 as the date of his birth.1

Among the archives in the Georgetown University are the Catholic parish records of St. Mary's County, Maryland, which contain the register of the marriage of Bennet Reiley (sic) to Susanna Drury, August 16, 1784. There can be little doubt that these were the parents of Bennet Riley who served in the United States Army. The records of the United States Pension Office show that Riley's widow spelled her name "Reilly" and "Riley".

Riley, before the War of 1812, was a foreman in a shoe shop; he was next employed as a sailor aboard a privateer but the ship was unsuccessful in making captures and the crew gained no prize money.2

Appointed to the military service from Maryland as an ensign rifleman January 19, 1812,3 he was promoted to third lieutenant on March 12 and saw active service at Sacket's Harbor, New York, during the War of 1812.

After the evacuation and burning of Fort Madison in November, 1813, there was great alarm in the settlements below; in consequence of which a new post was built on a high promontory of the Mississippi, opposite the middle fork of the Des Moines River; the work of building the post which was named Fort Johnston, was done by the Rangers and some regular troops; W. S. Harney and Bennet







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Riley were among the officers stationed there. As at Fort Madison, the contractor failed to supply the garrison with needed provision and Fort Johnston was abandoned and burned the spring after it was built.4

Under the Act of February 10, 1814, three new regiments of riflemen were organized and Riley's was designated the First; he became a second lieutenant on April 15 of that year. The four regiments were consolidated May 17, 1815 and Bennet Riley served as adjutant from December, 1816 to July, 1817. He had become a first lieutenant the last of March, 1817, and reached the grade of captain August 6, 1818.5

On the previous March 16, 1818, Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, had ordered Col. Thomas A. Smith to establish a permanent post high up the Missouri River at the mouth of the Yellowstone; preparations were made which resulted in the expedition, commanded by Col. Talbot Chambers, getting away from Belle Fontaine Barracks on August 30. The detail was made up of riflemen who traveled in six keel boats under the command of Captains Bennet Riley, Matthew I. Magee and Wyly Martin. After the boats had been towed for about sixty days they arrived at Cow Island (Isle au Vache) eighty miles above Fort Osage. Provisions had given out and ice formed in the river so that further progress was impossible until spring; a group of log houses was built and Captain Martin was left in command when Colonel Chambers returned to Missouri. The post was called Cantonment Martin in honor of the senior captain but it must have been an empty honor since the riflemen were hard put to keep from starving. They relied on game they killed until the arrival of Maj. Stephen H. Long late in July, 1819.6

Captain Riley was transferred to the Sixth Infantry October 3, 1821 and in 1823 he fought with Lieut. Col. Henry Leavenworth and William H. Ashley in the second battle with the Arikara Indians who had attacked the boat of a trader where thirteen men were killed and others wounded; this fight brought on a conflict with the United States; Riley who led one wing of the expedition was reported as serving with gallantry as he was an adept in campaigning on the plains.7

An amusing story, characteristic of the times, was related in the personal recollections of a pioneer, regarding Captain Riley









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"...who fought with so much bravery all through the Mexican war." He and Captain Thomas F. Smith were descending the Mississippi River in two keel boats, each in command of one hundred men; for company the two officers were riding in the same boat and as she descended the stream they saw a dead tree with the roots embedded in the mud at the bottom of the river. Captain Smith remarked to Captain Riley: "There is a sawyer." To which Riley replied, "I say it's a snag." Captain Smith immediately retorted: "I say it's a sawyer; do you mean to dispute my word?" Riley answered, "And I say it's a snag; do you mean to dispute my word?" Captain Smith directed the non-commissioned officer commanding the vessel, "Round the boat to, sergeant—No man shall dispute my word. . . " The two captains went ashore, and in the presence of the enlisted men under their command, took a shot at each other with pistols; the officers had been imbibing a little and neither was hit by the exchange of shots.7-a

Riley was brevetted major August 6, 1828, for ten years faithful service in one grade. When Lieutenant Jefferson Davis reported at Jefferson Barracks in 1829, he arrayed himself in full regimentals to call at headquarters to pay his respects to the commandant. The ranking officers were absent and Davis was directed to the quarters of the commissary where he found "Major Riley alone, seated at a table with a pack of cards before him, intently occupied with a game of solitaire..."8

In 1828, the bold depredations of the prairie Indians had become so troublesome that the Santa Fe traders petitioned the government to furnish an escort of United States troops. In the spring of 1829, three companies of the Sixth Infantry and one of riflemen at Jefferson Barracks were ordered to be filled up with officers and men specially selected for this new and unusual duty in guarding the annual caravan going and returning from the borders of western Missouri to the boundary of the United States.9

The year 1829 was important in the career of Major Riley as it brought him into prominence by his participation in this expedition which has been recorded by numerous historians. The detail embarked on the Mississippi River May 4, 1829, and in ten days was landed at Cantonment Leavenworth which had been established two years before. This was the fastest time ever made between the two posts. Leavenworth had proved most unhealthful and had been abandoned by the Third Infantry after the regiment had lost many men through illness and death. The riflemen spent a week or two







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at this post before marching fifty miles west to "Round Grove" agreed upon as the rendezvous with the traders.10

It is probable that Riley and his force were the first to make use of Leavenworth as a point of departure for the international boundary and he is reported to have been the first to make use of oxen to carry his supplies; his men being on foot were unable to overtake and capture the wild Indians mounted on fleet ponies. Riley's orders were to halt at Chouteau's Island in the Arkansas River, where the trail crossed into Mexico; this was a serious limitation of his usefulness to the caravan as the most precarious part of the whole journey began after the border was passed.11

According to the historian Edwin L. Sabin12 "Bennet Riley was an illiterate man and I have read the statement that he could not read or write.

"He probably picked up a smattering of reading and writing for use in middle life..." The same author describing Kit Carson wrote: "His lack of education did not rank him below a number of officers in those days when Colonel Bennet Riley, of enunciation impeded by a hair lip, prated of his beginnings as an illiterate cobbler."13

However uneducated Major Riley may have been he managed to make a report to General Leavenworth that is well worth reading for its clear and picturesque account of the expedition to the West. The report, dated November 22, 1829, recites that he had returned to Cantonment Leavenworth on November 8 with

"all well and in good spirits, but rather thinly clad for the season. The command left this place on the 3rd of June, and the opposite side of the river on the 4th...we had little or no trouble, except with the oxen, they being of different ages, some old and some young, and not used to be put together, and the teamsters not accustomed to drive them...but after five or six days we had no trouble.

"Nothing occurred worthy of notice until the 11th, when a cart broke down, and...we found that the inside of the hubs was entirely decayed...it could not be repaired...I directed my assistant quartermaster, Lieutenant Brooke, to have it left behind...On the same day we fell in with the company of traders, at a place called Round Grove, consisting of about 79 men and 38 wagons, which we took under our protection, and on the 12th left the Grove...

"On the 20th we left Council Grove. After going some miles we found a piece of bark stuck up in the road, which had written on it, 'The Kansas have been attacked a few days since by the Pawnee Picks, and one of them has been killed.' We saw several of their camps as we passed along, but after this we saw but one, which we took to be the camp of sortie other nation of Indians, and concluded that they had gone back; but on









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our return we learned that they had pushed ahead and waited for me at Cow Creek, the place where we saw the last Indian camp, where they had stayed two or three days, and then, being out of provisions, had crossed the Arkansas lower down . . . and had gone low down on the Semirone, (Cimarron) so that we missed them altogether.

"I had followed your instructions inviting the Kansas, Ioways, and Shawnese, to accompany the expedition without pay or rations...but received no answer from either of them; if I had, I should have sent a runner ahead to inform them that my command was at hand. In a few days after that we lost six horses belonging to individuals, and some of the traders reported that they had seen signs of Indians, which determined me to abandon the idea of sending an express after we should have left Turkey creek, which you will see was for the good of the service.

"On the 9th of July we arrived at Chouteau's island, where the traders determined to cross the river...They crossed the river on the 10th, and on the 11th I went across to see them, and at about one o'clock they started.

"I had given them my views and advice of the manner they should proceed, and they promised to adhere to it, but it was soon forgotten. I told them they must stick together, and not leave their wagons more than one hundred yards . . . but it had no effect; for at about half-past six of the same evening an express arrived from them, stating that Mr. Lamme, a merchant from Liberty, was killed, and they were only six miles off, and the Indians were all around them, and if I did not go to their assistance that they expected to be killed and scalped. I could not hesitate, but struck my tents immediately and commenced crossing; But, unfortunately for my oxen, the river had risen about two feet during the day, so that we had some difficulty in getting across, but eventually succeeded. I reached them with the first division, composed of companies A and B, with the six-pounder and ammunition wagon, at about eleven o'clock at night, and the second division under the command of Captain Wickliffe14 in about an hour after, with companies F. and H, and the rest of the baggage and wagons. We found them in a very dangerous situation, surrounded by very high sand hills, with deep ravines running in every direction . . . As soon as I arrived I selected the best position I could, and remained under arms all night, but saw no Indians.

"At reveille some of the traders gave an alarm, and said they saw the Indians in great numbers, but we could see nothing of them. They expressed a wish that I go further with them. I consented to travel with them two days, or until they should reach the Semirone; they appeared to be very well satisfied, and after burying Mr. Lamme, about ten o'clock a. m. (sic) we took up our line of march. The next day, the 13th, we reached a little creek, where there was good grass and water, which was very fortunate for us, for thirteen yokes of oxen had given out that day. We rested on the 14th, and the traders stayed with us...We parted on the next day and I arrived at Chauteau's (sic) island on the 16th, after a fatiguing march of five days since we left the river. We encamped on the Mexican side for six or eight days, during which time we found it necessary to have the oxen unyoked and herded in good grass. We re-crossed at the expiration of the time above named and encamped a little above, opposite Chauteau's island...We had to encamp there for the purpose of giving our cattle a chance of gaining strength and spirits, there being good grass and wood there. We remained quiet until the 31st of July, when four discharged soldiers, Simmons, Fry, Colvin, and Gordon, started for the settlements. They had....asked my advice about going in. I told them that they ought not to think of such



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a thing....but added that they were citizens, and to do as they pleased; but if they wished to stay they should have something to eat. All this had no effect; they wanted to go.

"....At night of that day three of them only got back to camp, and I think it very doubtful, if it had not been for a hunting party under the command of Lieutenant Searight,15 whether any of them would have got back or not. They stated that they had not gone more than eight or ten miles when they discovered about thirty Indians riding across the river. They landed and soon galloped up to them, when one of the men made a sign of peace, which they returned, and the parties shook hands. Then the Indians made a sign for them to go across the river, which they declined, and started on their journey, the Indians still making signs for them to cross the river. George Gordon looked back and said they were all friends, and that he would go back and shake hands again; the others told him not, but in the act of shaking hands a second time he was killed by another Indian with a gun. The other three immediately took off their packs and prepared to defend themselves. The Indians began to ride round and cut capers on their horses; the three men fired one at a time at them, and retreated towards my camp, and met Lieutenant Searight's party. They said they killed one of the Indians.

"The next day, 1st August, I sent Captain Wickliffe, with about forty or fifty men, and one of the discharged men, in search of the body of Gordon" but the discharged soldier was so terrified that he could not locate the place and the party had to return without effecting their object. On the third Major Riley sent out another party under Adjutant Izard16 with forty men and two of the discharged soldiers, to make a search and bury the bones if found. While this detail was away the Indians made a desperate attack on horseback on the cattle and their guard, about four or five hundred yards from the camp. A fight took place on perfectly level ground; Riley ordered Captain Pentlend,17 commanding "light company B" which was armed with rifles, to advance and skirmish with the Indians until he could form a line. Lieut. Philip St. George Cook18 "with his guard, was also ordered to that point, for the cattle guard was in great danger; but the promptness of the movement checked the charge of the enemy....









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"In the meantime I had formed company H, commanded by Lieutenant Waters,19 and company F, commanded by Captain Wickliffe, and marched them forward at a double quick time towards the thickest of the enemy; and when about one hundred and fifty yards fired a volly. At that moment I discovered that the Indians were around my camp. Lieutenant Searight was playing away with a six-pounder with good effect, and changing his position as circumstances required. I gave the command of the two companies to Captain Wickliffe, and went to the right flank, where I directed grenadier company A, commanded by Lieutenant Van Swearingen20 to protect it, which was properly executed. In the mean time Captain Wickliffe, with great presence of mind, had crossed his company to the island to protect the rear, and opened fire on the enemy.

"The Indians, seeing that we were well guarded on every side, began to gallop around and to move off. Our cattle and horses had taken fright at the first onset, but a part of them had been stopped by the company in the rear....By this time the enemy was retiring after a loss of eight killed and one wounded. Our loss, one man wounded, who died in a few hours after, fifty-four oxen, ten public horses, ten private horses, and a few public mules. Think what our feelings must have been to see them going off with our cattle and horses, when, if we had been mounted, we could have beaten them to pieces; but we were obliged to content ourselves with whipping them from our camp. We did not get any of the killed or wounded, but we saw the next day where they had dragged them off. They have said since that our fire from the big gun killed five or six. Lieutenant Brooke,21 my assistant quartermaster and commissary, seeing that there was very little to do in the staff, shouldered his rifle, marched out with the companies, and fought with them....

"I have never seen officers and men more anxious to have a good fight. Every officer appeared to vie with each other who should do most for his country. After all was over I had the men formed and gave them an extra gill, and signified my satisfaction at their conduct. The Indians were about three hundred strong, well mounted, and with guns, bows, and spears; our force about one hundred and thirty or forty. Lieutenant Izard being absent with his command, about forty men.

"The nation or nations we could not tell, but I have reason to believe that there was a part of the Camanchies, Arapahoes, and Hiaways, [Kioways] as one of my men's tin pans was found with some of these three







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nations that attacked the traders on their return, as also King's powder horn, that was recognized by some of my men when they showed things they had taken from the men killed in battle.

"We moved down the river in three or four days after this affair. On the 10th Corporal Astor came to us and informed us that he and Nation had been sent with an express, and that on the 23rd July they were attacked by about fifteen Indians, who succeeded in getting the mail and horses and wounding them both, Nation dangerously, by a spear in the breast, and him slightly in the wrist by an arrow."

Nation was lying ill from his wound, about ten miles away, and Corporal Astor had been wandering about since the fight on the twenty-third hoping to find the command. He reported that they had eaten snakes and frogs part of the time. Near Council Grove they had seen Indians who seemed hostile but they had not attacked them.

Major Riley at once ordered Lieutenant Van Swearingen with a force of forty men to take a cart and bring in Nation. "He returned at about nine or ten o'clock at night with him; he was very low; he reports that his joy, at seeing the party, was beyond expression; he shed tears,...." On the eleventh of August the soldiers saw some Indians about two miles and a half from the camp; they were leading horses and some of them were going in and out of a ravine; at times they would come up the river and then go down again, evidently with the hope of decoying the soldiers from their camp. Mason had sent three or four men across the river to hide under the bank for the purpose of killing buffalo; this project had been carried out with great success every day. When the Indians appeared Riley had the recall sounded and when the soldiers returned they reported they had killed three buffaloes. After the Red Men disappeared the Major detailed a party of sixteen men, with Captain Pentland and Bugler King of Company A to take a wagon and bring in the buffaloes that had been killed. King was sent along in order to locate the game since he had been in the party when the buffaloes were killed. Riley ordered the officer to keep his party together as they had seen Indians that morning and that in case he was attacked he must fight; he would be supported in a short time. After going across the river King saw a buffalo crossing the stream and obtained permission from Captain Pentland to go after him to try to shoot him. The camp had been attacked in the meantime by about one hundred fifty Indians; the command was called out, formed in a square with a company on a side but the savages did not come within musket shot.

The six-pounder was brought into service by Lieutenant Searight and Captain Wickliffe marched in the direction of Pentland's force but when he reached the river he discovered that the party had crossed to a sand bank near the side of the river and that King had been killed; when the Major learned of this state of affairs he immediately ordered his adjutant, Lieutenant Izard, to direct Captain Wickliffe to cross the river to rescue King's body,

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"Thinking that they had in the skirmish no time to take his scalp...As Wickliffe crossed the river he was fired at by about fifteen or twenty Indians, and he returned the fire from his company. He then saw the wagon and team running down the river. He directed Captain Pentland to recover the body of King and he would with his company recover his wagon and team, after exchanging several fires with the enemy.

"In the mean time Captain Pentland had recovered the body and brought it into camp."

Riley, at the first shots had directed Lieutenant Sevier22 command of company B, to support Captain Wickliffe; he reached the point of support in a few minutes. When Wickliffe saw that the enemy had dispersed he had the buffaloes cut up and taken into camp. The soldiers reported there were not more than fifteen or twenty Indians on his side of the Arkansas; as soon as they were discovered in pursuit Pentland ordered his detail to retreat.

"There are two instances in this report in support of my opinion, that in the case of discharged soldiers, when four were attacked by thirty, they got off safe, after they showed resistance, and the case of Arter Nation, two attacked by fifteen, and when a show of resistance was made they went off...Nation was killed...in the act of giving tobacco. I am thus particular to show the government that I have done the best in my powere, and that my arrangements in this case were as good as they could be, but unfortunately they were not carried into effect...The loss on both sides was equal in number..."

Riley enclosed a written report which he had ordered Pentland to make. The Captain claimed he had been attacked but Riley asserted that he had not been fired upon by the Indians nor had he shot at them so it could not rightly be called an attack. Pentland reported there were forty-six or fifty Indians against his detail. "Admit there were---------in the name of God, cannot twenty Americans whip fifty Indians? I answer yes, that they can whip one hundred such as we came in contact with in that country..."

The force kept on the march every day to hunt buffalo, on which the men fattened although the beasts were not fat, and to get grass for their stock. The soldiers had as much game as they could eat and in addition a half ration of flour and salt throughout the whole expedition. Nothing of importance happened between August 11 and October 11, except the death of Nation. During the last part of September and the first days of October the force was occupied in overhauling their wagons and carts; a board of officers condemned five wagons and three carts which were entirely unfit for service. They were ordered burned and the iron cached in a safe place. The outfit remained a day longer than had been planned and it did not



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go forward until October 11. The transportation had been put in as good condition as possible

"with fifteen days' full ration of pork, beans, salt, vinegar, soap, candles, and about twenty-eight days' of flour and bread, with about thirty-two---------of dried buffalo meat,...On my arrival at Chauteau's island on the 9th of July, I had directed the company to lay by fifteen days' full rations, in order that, if at any time we were obliged to abandon the expedition, we should have plenty to eat."

Soon after the departure of the force an express was received from the traders reporting that they were only a day's march from them; they had a Spanish force with them under command of Lieutenant Colonel [Joseph Anthony] Viscarra. Major Riley at once order a halt. Tents were pitched and the Americans awaited the arrival of the caravan which reached their camp the following day.

"When the colonel got nearly across the river, I had my line formed parallel to it, and received him with presented arms. I sent my adjutant, on his landing, to escort him down the line. After he had passed I dismissed the battalion, and received and welcomed him to the territory of the United States, and invited him and the secretary of state of Santa Fe to my tent, where we exchanged civilities...That evening he visited some of the officers and appeared to be pleased."

The American commander, eager to display his force to the foreigners, ordered a short battalion drill and later one by a company of light infantry; both Spaniards appeared pleased with the demonstration. As a return courtesy Colonel Viscarra had his troops formed and took the American officers down the line; the Mexicans presented arms and fired several times with a brass 4-pounder. They were next entertained at the colonel's marquee with excellent chocolate and other refreshments. The Mexican commander was particularly pleased with the American cannon, the carriage and implements which were quite unlike his.

"The next morning (13th) we parted, he for Santa Fe, and I for this place...The caravan I received from the detachment amounted to about two hundred thousand dollars worth, probably of different kinds. One Spanish family, eight or ten other Spaniards, who were punished by their laws for having been born in old Spain, all of which, in my humble opinion, would have been destroyed and the people killed if it had not been for the Mexican escort. They were attacked, as it was, near the Semirone spring on their return, but the colonel, with his troops and Indians, beat them off. He lost one captain and two privates killed...The traders say they killed eight Indians; but there are several stories about it...We traveled on with them under our protection until we parted, which was at the Little Arkansas.

"On the fifth or sixth day after we started our oxen began to fail, and we were obliged to leave some on the road almost every day until we got in. I cannot account for it, unless it was that hard night's drive across the Arkansas, or after the attack of the 3d of August, for we had to keep them yoked and tied to the wagon wheels every night until our return; and another thing is, that we had to diminish the extent of range...in fact it was impossible to protect them any distance from camp. We only got in with twenty-four yokes, and the most of them could not have drawn another day. One strong ground for the above reasons being correct is,

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that I let Mr. [Charles] Bent23 have a yoke on the 10th of July...and he writes in that he went through to Santa Fe better than the mules;...I let Mr. Bent have them to try whether Oxen in future, if we could get them, would answer, they are so much cheaper. One team of three yokes of oxen will not cost more than two mules. On the 8th of November, at night, got to the end of our journey at Cantonment Leavenworth...B. RILEY, Major United States Army, commanding."24

A readable description of the 1829 expedition was given by Lieut. Philip St. George Cooke25 who wrote more informally than his commander; his accounts of the scenery, the traders and of his delight in buffalo hunting are most colorful. The force marched 130 miles in sight of the Arkansas River and Cooke noted the lack of trees and the mirages which were frequently observed. The trader who was was killed was "a Mr. Lamb (Lamme), the largest capitalist, and owner of the company." He states that Bugler King, after being wounded, was deserted by Penland although his cries were repeatedly heard. "He was an old soldier, and a favorite." A remarkable feature of this tour was that the personnel returned in excellent health due to the care given the men by the commander.26

Another historian wrote that when the Indians attacked "Riley, did not pause to unravel red tape, but broke camp and marched with all speed to the rescue...perhaps the first time an American force had entered Mexican territory."27 Riley's position on the Arkansas was one of serious danger; the speed of his movements when he reached the harrassed caravan astonished the traders beyond measure.28" The veteran trader, William Waldo, citing a hard battle with the Comanches in which he and other traders took part under Charles Bent, in the Cimarron Desert, during the spring of 1829, asserts:

"We had sixty men. The Famous Ewing young29 heard of our situation, and also that two thousand warriors of various tribes had combined,















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and had taken a position in the mountains, which we could not avoid. He, first attempted to come to our assistance, but was attacked and driven back. Here the boy Kit Carson gained his first laurels . . . Captain Waldo supports this story by linking it with the escort duty of Major Bennet Riley, who . . . guarded this caravan of the spring of 1829 to the Arkansas . . . and, by reason of Indian threats, for a day's march beyond."30

Major Riley returned to Jefferson Barracks with his command of four companies of the Sixth Infantry, from Fort Leavenworth in 1831.31

On March 3, 1831, congress appropriated $210 to be paid to Major Riley, Lieut. F. J. Brook and Lieut. J. D. Seawright for the loss of three horses, captured from them in action with the Comanches and other Indians, on the Santa Fe trace, in the summer of 1829, while convoying traders to the Mexican border under the orders of the President of the United States.32

During a period that Major Riley spent on recruiting duty at Rochester, New York, interested people would gather around him at the dinner table to hear him recount tales of his service on the plains. On one occasion he was telling about the countless multitudes of buffaloes he saw while on his march to protect the Santa Fe traders when a man asked him how many of the beasts he had ever seen in one herd. The Major dropped his knife and fork, thought gravely for a minute and answered, "Ten Millions."

This astounding reply was received in silence and incredulity until the man who had made the inquiry said: "Well, Major, as you say so I'm bound to believe it, but damned if I would had I seen it myself."32-A

Trouble had been brewing for several years with Sauks and Fox Indians who resented the invasion of white miners and farmers in their territory and this finally provoked Black Hawk, the chief, to cross the Mississippi to Rock Island, April 6, 1832, with hundreds of warriors, women and children; the Sixth infantry was hurried from Jefferson Barracks and engaged in a battle near the junction of the Bad Axe and the Mississippi on August 2, 1832, in which Riley and the young officers who had accompanied him on his western expedition participated.33 Riley was also at Dixon's Ferry the Black Hawk campaign. Major Riley received $576.45 in pay from October 1, 1832, to September 30, 1833. He was paid $480.80 for subsistence; $232.00 for forage; and he was allowed pay, subsistence and a clothing allowance for a servant. Figures were slightly higher for the following year when his own salary was $616.12.34













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Maximilian, Prince of Wied, in his travels in America, on April 22, 1833,

"...came to a place where most of the trees were cut down, and we were not a little surprised at the sight of a sentinel. It was the landingplace of the cantonment Leavenworth...where four companies of the sixth infantry of the line, about 120 men, under Major Ryley, were stationed to protect the Indian boundary."35

The Sixth Regiment of Infantry, under command of Major Riley, left Jefferson Barracks Monday, February 29, 1836, in transports for Fort Jesup, Louisiana.36 Late in the summer or early autumn, Riley, with three companies of his regiment, conveyed a warning to the Caddoes from General Gaines to beware of hostile demonstrations against the whites. The Army and Navy Chronicle reported November 3, 1836, that Riley had been sent to a position near the Sabine, about ninety miles northwest of Camp Sabine, Louisiana. This frontier was said to be perfectly quiet; the few Indians were pursuing their own business and no disturbances were likely to occur.

A report was sent December 23, 1836, from Fort Jesup, Louisiana, that Captain Wheeler of the Third Infantry with his company (H), had left there for the Caddo station, where Major Riley, with three companies of the Sixth had been stationed since October. Riley and his force were expected at Jesup on their way to Florida.37

On January 12, 1837, Major Riley with six other officers and three companies of troops arrived at New Orleans aboard the steamer John Linton from Natchitoches. It was thought these companies were on the way to Florida but a news item from Fort Jesup, February 17, stated that Riley had been as far as New Orleans and returned with his three companies to Camp Sabine; a meeting of officers was held at the camp August 10 at which resolutions of regret were passed regarding the death of Capt. M. W. Bateman of the Sixth Infantry. Riley presided and his name heads the list of signers.38

From Camp Sabine, August 28, 1837, Riley wrote his friend Senator Lewis F. Linn of Missouri an account of his peregrinations since leaving Missouri. A large part of this letter is reproduced as it gives details of this officer's service not otherwise found; it settles the question of his birthplace; discloses his disappointment at non-recognition of his gallantry and the touching reference to his son39











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and his hope that he would be proud of his father's record.

"...I have been removed from Jefferson Barracks to Natchitoches, in this State, from thence to Fort Jesup, from Fort Jesup to this place, and from this place back to Jesup, and from thence to the Caddo Indians, and from thence to New Orleans, and from thence back to this place, where we have remained until this time, but how much longer I am unable to say...I would rather be in Missouri than any other State in the Union that I have been in, not excepting old Virginia, the place of my birth...We have been here nearly two years, and for what purpose I am unable to say, for there has been no invasion or threatened invasion, that I know of. There are no Indians nearer than eighty or one hundred miles of us, and we are fifty or sixty miles from those large planters who have so large a number of negroes that it would require a garrison near to prevent their negroes rising...We have temporary quarters built at this place, which is about two miles and a half from the river Sabine, on a straight line, and about four by the road.

"It is my opinion that we could be of more use to the service if we were on the frontier of Missouri or Arkansas. There we could be a check on the Indians; for if we do not establish a line of posts around that frontier soon, the enormous body of Indians which the government is sending among you will become dissatisfied, and will rise and use you up before we can help you...the sooner it is done, the less it will cost the government, and the less blood will be spilt.

"...two wars have shown us that riflemen are the most efficient troops that ever were employed in our country. Where can you find troops more efficient than...Forsyth's riflemen of the last war with Great Britain? I served with Forsyth's riflemen during the whole of the late war, up to the reduction of the army in 1821, and I have been in the infantry since...

"I have served my country honestly and faithfully for near twenty-five years, and have commanded detachments, companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades, and have been on some important expeditions, and have had the good fortune to have the approbation of my commanding officer and the government...At the close of the last war, Mr. Dallas, then Secretary of War, promised me the brevet rank of major; but unfortunately he died...

"I made repeated applications after the war for leave to visit Washington, but without effect until the fall of 1820, which was the first opportunity I had of laying my claims before the President and Secretary of War, which I did, but I was told I was too late by Mr. Monroe and Mr. Calhoun; but they both, if I understood them, agreed that my claim was just.

"Again in 1826, I had my claim before Mr. Adams and Mr. Barbour, and had no better success. I claimed brevets for the following actions: The battle of La Cole's mill—General Wilkinson told me, for my gallant conduct, that he would remember me. In the summer of 1814, on the day the gallant Forsyth40 fell, I, with fifteen riflemen, led the enemy's force, of about seven or eight hundred strong, into an ambuscade, in such a manner than, if Forsyth had obeyed his orders, not a man of them would have escaped to have told the story; for which General T. A. Smith sent for me, and offered me brevet rank, which I declined. A few weeks after I dispersed a party of the enemy of more than my number, killed their advanced guard, and wounded and took prisoner...an Indian chief by the name of Malaun. He was a celebrated chief; and to show you how



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much the British thought of him, they asked his body of General Smith, and had it buried in splendid style; for this General Smith sent for me again, and offered me brevet rank again; which I again declined.

"Well, sir, for the battle of Plattsburg I respectfully refer you to Major General Macomb [and also to a letter from Macomb to him written in 1826 on file in War Dept.] For these few battles I was promised brevet rank. Since then, in 1823, at the battle of the Arickarees, General Leavenworth recommended me to be brevetted to a major. Again on the Santa Fe road, August 3, 1829, when I defeated eight hundred Indians with one hundred and fifty, and killed and wounded forty of them; and again defeated them on the 10th of November.

"Sir, if I had received brevets for all of these actions only, I should have been a colonel by brevet, September 11, 1834....I had a talk with General Jackson in 1831...[about brevets].

"I am more anxious at this time than I was heretofore, for I wish my son, when he grows up, to see and hear that his father has served his country honestly and faithfully, by gallantry. My services are well known; but I wish my name to be on the records of my country for gallant services;

"On the 4th of March last, about twelve o'clock, we gave Matty and old Tecumseh twenty-six roarers...

B. Riley, Major United States Army."41

After years as a brevet major, Riley on September 26, 1837, was made a full major and assigned to the Fourth Infantry. A month later he was ordered to join his regiment in Florida.42 On June 1, 1838, Major Riley arrived at Savannah aboard the Charleston from Garey's Ferry, with other officers and two companies of troops.43 He reached Fort Gibson November 7, 1838, and on December 22, was present at a meeting held in the post when resolutions were adopted expressing regret at the death of Capt. John Stuart of the Seventh Infantry at Fort Wayne. Three days later Col. A. P. Chouteau died at his plantation, Grand Saline; the commandant at Fort Gibson directed that his body be interred with all the honors of war since he was a graduate of West Point and formerly an officer in the army. The escort consisted of twelve companies of infantry and Dragoons with bands; Major Riley was one of the pall bearers.44

The Fourth Infantry arrived at Fort Gibson February 6, 1839, and took possession of the works the following day, relieving Col. William Whistler and the Seventh Infantry under orders for Florida.45

The commanding general caused Major Riley, Aide de Camp and Assistant Adjutant General to be notified July 23, 1839, that no further labor be expended on a contemplated encampment, as he











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planned to have part of the troops at Fort Gibson, encamp on the hill, or at some other point, in an attempt to benefit their health, so soon as the difficulties in the Cherokee Nation were settled.46

Major Riley was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the Second Infantry December 1, 1839; within three days all of the field officers of the Fourth regiment were changed by resignation, promotion and death—"a remarkable event, that may not occur once in twenty or thirty years in time of peace."47

Colonel Riley entered upon very active service when he joined his regiment in Florida. A report from Black Creek, East Florida, May 28, 1840, to the editor of the Savannah Georgian stated that Lieutenant Martin of the Second had been wounded three times by the Indians and Lieut. James S. Sanderson of the Seventh, and five soldiers had been killed May 19, near Micanopy. An express from Wakahosta brought news that the post was surrounded by Seminoles and Colonel Riley and his command went in pursuit. When they discovered the body of Sanderson and his men they found the savages had cut off his fingers and stuffed them in his mouth.48

Riley was scouting and fighting with his command along the Withlacooche River where they captured small bodies of Indians and destroyed their crops; on June 2, 1840, he moved his troops

"to the old ford of the Withlacoocha, about 20 miles below Fort Dade, where I parted from the wagons, left a guard of fifty men for their protection...and proceeded to the Cho-co-chatta savanna, where I surprised an Indian camp, killed three warriors, and took three warriors. It was a source of much regret to me that I have to report one squaw among the killed. She was taken for a warrior by one of the volunteers...fired upon by him, as she was endeavoring to make her escape." Fifteen or twenty acres corn and peas were destroyed.

"On the 3d inst. I came upon another camp, in Cho-co-chatte region, of considerable extent, from which forty or fifty Indians had escaped, several hours before; destroying their huts, ten or twelve hogs, some packs, and thirty acres of fine corn, peas, pumpkins, and melons, just ripening. I retraced my steps to the wagons, and having convinced myself that there were no other camps in that region, and taking three days' provision from them, I next proceeded in the direction of the Annattee Sega hammock, and scoured it in different directions, going as far west as the Fort Clinch road, capturing a squaw, her child, and two ponies, and destroying a small field of corn, &c.

"Finding that most of the trails in that region were running south, and several weeks old, I deemed it a waste of time and labor to remain out any longer...returned to my wagons, put the command in motion, and arrived here [Fort King] this morning" May 30, 1840.49

On June 2, 1840, Riley was brevetted colonel for his bravery and good conduct at the battle of Chokachatta, Florida where he particularly distinguished himself; also for long meritorious and









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gallant service.50 Riley was actively on the pursuit of Indians all through the month of June; with Colonel Worth and troops of the Second and Eighth Infantry, on June 8 he took up the trail to surprise and capture Halleck-Tustenuggee. With Negro guides the command moved from Fort King to Fort McClure and thence to the neighborhood of Lake Fanee Sufekee where the green corn dances and councils were held by the Indians. After a hard march of forty-four miles on June 10 the troops were confronted by the swamp. The night was spent in crossing this morass filled with cold water where the soldiers carried only muskets and ammunition and the officers rifles or swords; the night was black under the gloomy cypress trees and halts were frequently made to extricate officers or men from the mud. At dawn the huts of the enemy could be seen through the scrub and the soldiers, on hands and knees crawled through the undergrowth to within a few yards of them. When a shot was fired to arouse the Indians not a soul emerged from the huts. Large fields adjoining showed that this had been the stronghold of a numerous band. The soldiers disappointed and chagrined at their failure took up their return; they cautioned all posts to be on the alert not knowing where the fierce warriors would strike now that they were on the war path.51

On June 25, Riley marched from Fort King with two hundred men to examine the cove of the Withlacooche to Camp Izard. With other commands he received orders to penetrate the strongholds; to capture and destroy everything that would contribute to the strength of the enemy. Later Riley with some of his troops ascended the Withlacooche in boats.52

The last of July the commanding officer of these forces in reporting to the adjutant general of the army testified to the zeal and activity of his officers, calling particular attention to Lieutenant Colonel Riley among several others.53

Riley was next reported as president of a court martial at Palatka, Florida, where soldiers were being tried for mutinous conduct at that post. Colonel Whistler and Captain B. L. E. Bonneville, who had served at Fort Gibson, were also members of the court.54 In September, Colonel Riley, commanding the Second Infantry and a subdistrict, was stationed at Fort King. Two months later the regiment "under the gallant Riley" was operating south of that fort.55













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Colonel Ethan Allen Hitchcock noted in his diary that in a conversation with Colonel Riley at Fort King, November 4, 1840, the officer approved of leaving the Indians in Florida, saying 100,000 men would be required to remove them from their homes. He suggested a belt of neutral ground should be established between the Indians and whites on which neither should be permitted to live. Hitchcock wrote on November 13 that an express had come in the day before whereupon General W. R. Armistead summoned the field officers Colonel W. J. Worth, Colonel Riley, Colonel Clarke and himself to hold a council of war. General Armistead produced a letter from Secretary of War Joel Roberts Poinsett who urged the removal of the Indians in compliance with the treaty of 1832;56 if this was not practicable they were to be allowed to remain for an "indefinite period" below Tampa Bay.

On November 24, 1840, Colonel Riley marched south on the Tampa Bay road with about 160 men; he had orders to cross the big Withlacooche and proceed to the west. Provided with rations for fourteen days he had been directed to go into Tampa Bay if supplies were needed. On the return to Fort King Riley passed Hitchcock's command at Camp Withlacooche on November 28 and reported he had not seen an Indian nor a sign of one in any direction. The officers and men had long beards, they were dirty and black from fire smoke.57 At Tampa, December 8, 1840, Hitchcock wrote:

"An express came from Fort King in 20 hours...arriving this morning with a report from Col. Riley that 3 Indians had come in with a white flag. That he had no interpreter & could only understand that a large number of Indians would be in in six days, but that agreeably to the General's orders he had detained the 3 Indians as prisoners."

The second regiment of infantry began active duty in Florida in June, 1837; the officers and men participated with fortitude in the hardships of the campaigns, losing two officers and 131 non-commissioned officers and privates, victims to enemy fire and the climate. The regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel Riley, embarked at Palatka May 27, 1842, for Savannah to proceed to the Niagara frontier.58

Brigadier General W. J. Worth in his recommendations for brevets reported that Riley "has rendered much faithful and energetic service in this territory; is an old battle-officer in the war of 1812, of indisputable gallantry, much and unrequited service in that contest; has risen step by step to his present grade; recommended for the brevet of colonel."59









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The most treasured relic of the Second Infantry is a drum major's baton presented to the regiment by Colonel Riley in 1843. On the silver knob was engraved "Noli me tangre".60

Colonel Riley made a most distinguishable record in the Mexican War; he commanded the Second Infantry under General Scott and the Second Brigade of General Twiggs division in the valley of Mexico. He was brevetted a brigadier general for gallantry at Cerro Gordo April 18, 1847, and at Contreras he is said to have made a handsome movement with his brigade; Gen. Persifer Frazer Smith in his official report said Riley displayed gallantry, skill and energy; in a charge "he planted his colors upon the farthest works". On August 20, 1847, Riley was awarded the brevet of Major general for gallantry and General Scott assured him, after one of his engagements, that his bravery had secured a victory for the American army. General Scott publicly asserted that much of his success at Monterrey and Cerro Gordo was due to Riley's valor.61

Early in the Mexican War Jefferson Davis met Riley who greeted him with: "Well, my son here we are again; good luck to you my boy, as for me six feet of Mexican soil or a yellow sash." Fortunately for him and the service he won the yellow sash which he is reported to have called a "thath" owing to his lisp.62 After the war General Riley was on duty in Louisiana and Missouri where the state legislature presented him with a sword because of his splendid record; of him it was said that "he was incapable of a mean action and never tolerated it in another."63

General Riley commanded the Tenth Military District from August, 1849 to July, 1850, during which time he was ex-officio provincial governor of California.64 He arrived at Monterey on April 12 or 13, 1849, aboard the Iowa; relieved Col. Richard B. Mason of his command and became governor of California.

When Congress adjourned in March, 1849, without taking any action regarding California there was deep concern about the civil status of the colony; President Taylor sent a confidential agent to California soon after his inauguration, advising the mining camps to draw up a constitution and make application immediately for admission to statehood. General Riley was directed to cooperate with this movement which the immigrants were ready to support.65

Governor Riley called a constitutional convention at Monterey













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in September, 1849. This body drew up a constitution for the state which was submitted to the people "who languidly adopted it...Nov. 13, 1849.66 In Riley's opinion "he could not authorize the actual formation of a sovereign state, nor properly recognize it in advance of a congressional recognition. Yet just this he did, surrendering his powers to the new state government months before the admission of the State."67

Riley made a reputation as a capable administrator; he was well liked, particularly outside of San Francisco where citizens opposed some of his acts. Esteem for him increased as the good result of his program were observed. "This popularity was signalized by testimonials of popular respect"68 A farewell dinner was given in his honor at Monterey July 24, 1850; on that occasion he was presented a golden chain and a medal bearing the arms of the city.69

On January 31, 1850; Riley was promoted to colonel of the First Infantry and ordered to join his regiment on the Rio Grande; because of disability from cancer he could not comply with the order. He settled in Buffalo, New York, where he died June 7, 1853, leaving Arabella Riley, his widow, and five children.70

The pension records in the National Archives show that Mrs. Riley, or "Arabella Reilly" was granted a pension by special act of Congress. This was approved and she received the pension until her death on February 12, 1894. The only child mentioned in the Riley file was E.B.D. Riley who was living at 146 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, New York in 1894.71

Col. Thomas T. Fauntleroy, in 1852, recommended abandoning Fort Leavenworth, Fort Scott and several other posts and the establishment of a new fort to the west; his plan was not entirely followed but a post was built in 1853, four miles from Junction City, under the name of Camp Center as it was in the geographical center of the United States. Later in the year the name was changed to Fort Riley in honor of the gallant officer who led the first military escort across the plains to guard a caravan. Fort Riley, close to areas of Indian troubles, assumed the work of mounted expeditions against hostile Red Men and it has since become a famous Army school for the training of officers.72















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