Indian depredation claims: one of the many roads to the little bighorn

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Jeff Broome

There are many theories about Custer’s last fight at the Little Bighorn. Some of the more controversial ones include whether Custer Hill was originally a field hospital, whether Custer was wounded early in the fight, whether Captain Frederick Benteen did or did not fail Custer, and whether Major Marcus Reno failed in his valley fight or whether he saved his command by leaving the valley and entrenching on Reno Hill.

Concerning Lt. Colonel George A. Custer’s battle tactics on June 25, 1876, I believe his intent was to employ the same tactics he successfully used at the Washita in 1868: to surprise the Indians and get inside the village and capture as many women and children as possible, and then use them as human shields to control the warriors from counter-attacking. It is in explaining his failures that day that the theories and controversies abound.

I could go on. My point in mentioning this is to simply state that the enduring controversies and mysteries of the Little Bighorn are what keep us coming to the battlefield year after year, and sitting in this auditorium listening to people pontificate theories, which of course we debate back and forth, endlessly without resolve. I think all of this is healthy and what keeps this history so alive, and any student of the Little Bighorn must work out their own theories about each of these, and the many more issues relating to that fateful day in 1876.

But this talk today isn’t about any of these issues or theories just mentioned. It is, however, directly related to how a student of the battle might develop one’s own theory regarding the mysteries of June 25, 1876. The more one understands the times that Custer and his men lived, the better one can understand motives that might prompt particular actions relating to the Little Bighorn. When I first came into this battle many years ago, I couldn’t read enough about it. It took a long time for me just to begin to understand a good book from a bad book about the Little Bighorn. It took longer for me to learn how theories of the battle developed over the years. For example, if we were studying this battle, as battle superintendent Edward Luce did, between the two world wars, our classic sources would have been Graham’s Story of the Little Bighorn (1926) and Dustin’s The Custer Tragedy (1939). Luce’s own Keogh, Comanche and Custer (1939) advanced us beyond these two works.

If we were studying the battle in the later 1950s, our classic sources now would be Kuhlman’s Legend Into History (1951) and Graham’s compiled source book, The Custer Myth (1953). Edgar Stewart’s Custer’s Luck (1955) did a wonderful job of advancing our understanding beyond these works. And when I say our understanding went beyond these works, I am not implying these earlier works are now not helpful. They are classics because they stand their time, and theories offered in these earlier works can and often are vigorously defended today.

Other important works that further developed our understandings include Hammer’s Custer in ’76 (1976), which provided the student with the more important research of Walter Camp, compiled more than a half century earlier. Gray’s Centennial Campaign (1976) and Willert’s Little Big Horn Diary (1977) must also be included as books that must be carefully studied.

The full proceedings of the Reno Court of Inquiry were finally published in 1992. Archaeology came into the study with Fox’s Archaeology, History and Custer’s Last Battle (1993), and then Michno’s Lakota Noon (1997) compiled for the first time a comprehensive and consistent Indian account of the battle. The twenty-first century has already produced at least two studies destined to become classics, Sklenar’s To Hell With Honor (2000) and Liddic’s Vanishing Victory (2004).

The obvious conclusion to be drawn from all of this is that, for the student of the battle today, there is more material available for study than ever before. And let us not forget the relentless publishing efforts of John Carroll, producing volume after volume of original source material related to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I mention John Carroll last because Carroll, I believe, along with many of the authors I have already mentioned, knew something that is sometimes carelessly rejected by some of the most ardent students of the Little Bighorn. That is this: In order to understand what June 25, 1876, is really all about, one must travel the many roads that bring us to that lonely Montana hillside. I’m not talking about gravel roads or paved roads. I am talking about the many, many historical roads that lead us to Custer Hill. If you want to understand the 7th Cavalry in 1876, you must understand the 7th Cavalry in 1867, 1868 and 1869, to take just three years, because it is these three years that my talk is mostly about.

I knew early in my studies of the Little Bighorn that I must understand each person who had an important role in that 1876 expedition. Regarding Custer, I needed to learn about him not only in the Civil War, but especially in post-Civil War Kansas, where he first encountered hostile Indians as a part of his military experience. Early in my pursuits, the Kidder massacre of July 1, 1867, caught my attention. In the 1960s, an Indian pictograph of the Kidder massacre was discovered in the vaults of the Colorado Historical Society, where it had been donated in 1903. It was captured at the Battle of Summit Springs on July 11, 1869, near present-day Sterling, Colorado. At Summit Springs Brevet Major General Eugene A. Carr, with about 350 men of the 5th Cavalry and Buffalo Bill Cody as scout, surprised and attacked the predominantly Cheyenne village of Dog Soldier Indians, capturing the entire village of 84 lodges and killing more than four dozen warriors, including Cheyenne Dog Soldier Chief Tall Bull.

In the captured village were found two white women, who had been captured six weeks earlier in a murderous raid along Spillman Creek and the Saline River near present-day Lincoln, Kansas, about thirty-five miles northwest of Fort Harker. One captive, twenty-year-old Mrs. Maria Weichel, was gravely wounded by a Cheyenne Indian, probably Tall Bull, at the time Carr attacked the village. The other captive, twenty-nine-year-old Mrs. Susanna Alderdice, was not so fortunate. Shot above the eye and also tomahawked to the face, Susanna was found dead when the soldiers captured the village. Buried in the middle of the captured village the next morning, today Mrs. Alderdice’s grave is unmarked but near a small man-made reservoir that covers the middle of where the Indian village was in 1869. The area today maintains the features it possessed in 1869, minus the reservoir, when Carr made his successful attack upon the unsuspecting Indian village.

It was in being drawn into the story of Mrs. Alderdice that I wrote my book, Dog Soldier Justice: The Ordeal of Susanna Alderdice in the Kansas Indian War.1 Early in my research I discovered the existence of a little known primary source for Indian wars history. I first came upon this in a book published in 1910, titled Indian Raids in Lincoln County, Kansas, 1864 and 1869. In telling the story of Mrs. Weichel and Mrs. Alderdice, the author, C. Bernhardt, noted that Mrs. Weichel had later returned and visited with some of the survivors of the 1869 Indian raids. Bernhardt wrote in 1909 that she was “at the present time negotiating with the old settlers around Salina for evidence through which to secure damages from the government for losses sustained at that time.”2 What did this mean? In searching for the answer I discovered a whole source of untapped primary source data relevant to the Indian wars, namely, individual Indian depredation claims. The purpose of these claims was to give American citizens financial reimbursement for property losses sustained by raiding Indians who were in treaty with the United States.3

The history of these Indian depredation claims originates clear back in 1796 when Congress first passed laws allowing for compensation for citizens who had property stolen by Indians who were in treaty with the United States. Compensation for a successful claim was to be taken from the annuities provided in the various Indian treaties. The claims were processed through the "Civilization and Education" Division of the Office of the Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs.4 This law was tweaked and changed many times over the ensuing decades, but the driving thought behind it was twofold: to cause the Indian to refrain from committing future depredations (the “civilization” component), and to prevent settlers from seeking revenge against the depredating Indians (the “education” component). The law worked both ways. If an Indian suffered property losses from an American citizen, they could petition Congress to reimburse them for their loss, and compensation to the grieved Indian would come from the U.S. Treasury Department.

The requirements for filing a successful Indian depredation claim included several components. First, the raiding Indians had to be in amity with the United States, which usually meant the Indian tribe and the United States had agreed to an existing treaty. By the early 1870s, Congress passed new requirements, mandating that sworn affidavits had to be signed by victims of Indian assaults, including at least two witnesses who could testify to the merits of the losses and the truthful character of the victim.5 The Indian tribe responsible for the depredation had to be identified, and there had to be an investigation at which time the claim was presented to the tribe and the tribe's response was received. If the depredation occurred on Indian land, the claimant had to produce evidence showing permission to be on Indian land. Only occasionally does the accused tribe admit to committing any depredations. A special agent with the Department of the Interior would then investigate the claim as to the validity of the losses and the amounts of the goods stolen or destroyed. Often the agent would not allow the entire dollar amount detailed in the claim to be accepted.

These checks and balances between agencies did much to prevent fraud in particular depredation claims. It was not too infrequent that the claimant overstated either the amount or the value of the property lost. However, what was seldom, if ever, exaggerated were statements relative to the events that occurred during the depredation. There was no need to exaggerate the violent particulars of Indian acts, perpetrations, etc., for there was only potential compensation for destroyed or stolen property. There was never compensation for injury, either physical or emotional, nor loss of life.

Yet another requirement for a successful claim was that it had to be filed within three years of the loss; otherwise the claim was barred from compensation. However, so many claims were denied on this statute of limitation that Congress in 1885 removed the three-year time clause, effective back to 1873. Thus, several thousand claims were re-filed in the late 1880s.6

With this amended act of 1885, all Indian depredation cases were transferred from the Department of Interior to the United States Court of Claims for final adjudication. But it was the following requirement that today makes such claims a rich and useful research haven:

That all claims shall be presented to the court by petition setting forth in ordinary and concise language, without unnecessary repetition, the facts upon which such claims are based, the persons, classes of persons, tribe or tribes, or band of Indians by whom the alleged illegal acts were committed, as near as may be, the property lost or destroyed, and the value thereof, and any other facts connected with the transactions and material to the proper adjudication of the case involved. The petition shall be verified by the affidavit of the claimant, his agent, administrator, or attorney, and shall be filed with the clerk of said court. It shall set forth the full name and residence of the claimant, the damages sought to be recovered, praying the court for a judgment upon the facts and the law.7

These depredation claims are housed in the National Archives Records and Administration Building in Washington, D.C. They are not available as microfilm documents. The original documents must be viewed, individually, in the Research Room at the National Archives Building. In one record group alone (Record Group 123) are housed over 10,000 individual claims. Hundreds more can be found in Record Group 75. From these individual claims, in three separate visits to the National Archives, totaling twenty-eight days, I was able to locate several hundred claims that related to the turbulent times of Indian raids in Kansas, most of which occurred in the years 1867-1869. These times, of course, coincide with the military operations of the 7th Cavalry then stationed in Kansas, which included Custer’s victory at the Battle of the Washita, November 27, 1868, in present-day Oklahoma.

The 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty with the Cheyenne and Arapahoe, signed in 1867 near Fort Larned, Kansas, and ratified July 25, 1868, in Article 1, stated:

If bad men among the Indians shall commit a wrong or depredation upon the person or property of anyone, white, black, or Indian, subject to the authority of the United States and at peace therewith, the tribes herein named solemnly agree that they will, on proof made to their agent, and notice by him, deliver up the wrongdoer to the United States, to be tried and punished according to its laws; and in case they willfully refuse to do so, the person injured shall be re-imbursed for his loss from the annuities or other moneys due or to become due to them under this and other treaties made with the United States.8

Captain Albert Barnitz of the 7th Cavalry wrote his wife on July 29, 1868, that on that day Indian agent Edward Wynkoop had begun distributing arms and ammunition to the Indians, as part of the treaty stipulations.9 By August 10, one day after Wynkoop finished his annuity distributions, these same arms and ammunitions were used by more than two hundred Cheyenne in the first of their deadly raids upon outlying pioneer settlements in north-central Kansas. This shows without question that the Cheyenne were responsible for breaking this last and final treaty between their tribe and the United States. General W. T. Sherman noted this in his report to Congress:

On the 10th [August] they [the Cheyenne] appeared on the Saline, north of Fort Harker, where the settlers received them kindly; they were given food and coffee, but pretending to be offended because it was in “tin cups,” they threw it back in the faces of the women and began at once to break up furniture and set fire to the houses. They seized the women and ravished them, perpetrating atrocities which could have only been the result of premeditated crime. Here they killed two men. Thence they crossed over to the settlements on the Solomon, where they continued to destroy houses and property, to ravish all females, and killed thirteen men. Going to the Republican they killed two more men and committed other acts of similar brutal atrocity.10

General Phil Sheridan spoke of these raids and noted the violence done upon the women:

In all cases ravishing the women sometimes as often as forty and fifty times in succession, and while insensible from brutality and exhaustion forced sticks up their persons, and, in one instance, the fortieth or fiftieth savage drew his saber and used it on the person of the woman in the same manner.11

According to what Wynkoop filed in his report, the Cheyenne involved in the deadly settler raids were originally going to war against the Pawnee, and passing through the settlements on their way north to attack their native enemy two Indians captured a white woman and brought her into the Indian camp after outraging her. The Indians then returned her to her family and proceeded north,

... where they were kindly received and fed by the white people. They left the settlements on the south fork, and proceeded towards the settlements on the north forks. When in sight of these settlements they came upon a body of armed settlers, who fired upon them; they avoided the party, went around them, and approached a house some distance off. In the vicinity of the house they came upon a white man … and killed him. Soon after they killed [another] white man, and close by, a woman – all in the same settlement. At the time these people were killed, the party was divided in feeling, the majority being opposed to any outrages being committed; but finding it useless to contend against these outrages being committed … they gave way, and all went in together. They then went to another house in the same settlement, and there killed two men, and took two little girls prisoners; this on the same day.12

The depredation claim files, however, support Sherman and Sheridan’s explanation of the raids and show also that the United States military was without question justified in attacking the Cheyenne along the Washita River on November 27, 1868. Indeed, the depredation claims reveal a much more detailed story of the devastating Indian raids than what Sherman summarized in his official report noted above.

Here then, culled from the depredation files, is a very short summary of some of the violence committed in the Kansas Indian raids of 1868. There were actually two different raids into the pioneer settlements along the Saline and Solomon River valleys, both lasting several days. One set of raids included the capture of Sarah White on August 13, and another set of raids resulted in the capture of Mrs. Morgan on October 13. A third deadly raid occurred in 1869.

Mrs. Bacon was actually the first victim, captured August 10. Her husband, David, was able to escape being killed by hiding in a fallen tree trunk. Mrs. Bacon suffered a skull fracture and was repeatedly raped on two separate occasions over about a twelve-hour period. She was probably the woman that Sheridan said had a saber thrust into her vagina, as she was so severely injured that she was not expected to survive. She was delivered to the Simeon Shaw home on Spillman Creek west of present-day Lincoln, Kansas, which is where the Indians were first served coffee in tin cups. About fifty Indians invaded the house. Mrs. Mary Jane Shaw and her sixteen-year-old sister Miss Foster, were repeatedly raped by all the Indians for several hours. Simeon Shaw was knocked unconscious with a war club.13

Violence continued up north near present-day Beloit. On August 12 between fifty and seventy-five Indians came upon the shared home of David Bogardus and Benjamin Bell. David was married to Benjamin’s sister, Hester Ann. She would survive after being repeatedly raped. Her husband and brother would be killed, as would Benjamin’s wife, twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth. David and Hester Ann’s young son Matthew would witness the carnage and murder. He testified that the Indians forced his father and uncle to run around the house, while being whipped with rawhide as they ran. When Matthew’s father tried to protect himself from the painful whippings he was shot dead. Benjamin would likewise die, while trying to protect his nine-month-old daughter, Ella. She was found hours later in her dead father’s arms, still alive. She was gravely wounded, having been repeatedly hacked and poked about the head with a lance. Ella’s mother Elizabeth, shot through the lungs, would linger for three weeks until death relieved her of her suffering.

Taken captive from the home were two little girls, Ester and Margaret Bell, ages eight and six, respectively. They were the children of Aaron Bell, a brother to Benjamin and Hester Ann. He was not at the home and thus was spared the fate of his siblings. Ester testified in her family’s claim that she and her sister remained in captivity for one day until dropped on the prairie near where the raids first began at the junction of the Saline River and Spillman Creek, three miles west of present-day Lincoln. They would remain on the prairie for two more days, starving and threatened by wolves, before residents in Lincoln County discovered them.14 At the time Ester Bell was giving her affidavit in the 1880s, General Sheridan was penning his memoirs, where he wrote the Cheyenne captured “two little girls named Bell, who have never been heard of since.”15 Sheridan was apparently only speaking for himself when he wrote this.

Coincidentally, Captain Frederick Benteen had found them within minutes of their abandonment by the Indians, but he was apparently more interested in chasing the Indians west than caring for the Bell girls. He simply told them to walk down the river to the settlements a few miles further east.16 He had arrived in the area with a company of men, after being dispatched there from nearby Fort Zarah, when it was learned that the Indians were raiding the settlements. Finding some Indians attacking the Shermerhorn Ranch on Elkhorn Creek, he chased them west back and forth across the Saline River when he came upon the abandoned girls. But the traumatized little girls were unable to heed his advice to follow the river and remained near where they were abandoned for two more days.

Much more carnage had been committed by the raiding Cheyenne before Benteen’s arrival finally sent them away. Andrew Thompson was living about eight miles west of present-day Concordia when he was surprised and killed by the Indians, the same day the Bell and Bogardus murders happened.17

Unaware of the raids in his neighborhood, Spencer Randall was returning to his homestead with supplies from Junction City when he was surprised and killed. The contents of his wagon were destroyed or stolen.18 It should also be noted that in each homestead that the Indians raided, they set fire to the home, and if unable to do that, they destroyed everything in the house that they did not steal.

On August 13 John Baertoche and Henry Hewitt, living about ten miles away from the earlier raids and unaware of what was happening, decided to go on a buffalo hunt. They had barely left sight of their homes when they rode right into the Indians. They were quickly overpowered and killed. Both had young families that were able to escape their homes and avoid capture, though the contents of each home were destroyed. Hewitt’s daughter testified that her father’s body, when recovered a few days later, had been eaten by wolves.19

It was also on August 13 that Sarah White was captured and her father, Ben, killed. Sarah was captured from the home while her father was killed several miles away while working in a hay field.20 This, however, was not the end of the deadly raids.

On August 14, the day after Benteen chased Indians away from the Saline, Indians were still lurking along the Solomon River near present-day Beloit. Settlers near there earlier had congregated together at a fortified blockhouse a few miles east of where the Bogardus and Bell murders had occurred. Not seeing any Indians for a day, brothers John and Abraham Marshall, both Union veterans of the Civil War, ventured from the fortifications to see if it was safe to return to their homes. Within eyesight of the settlers remaining at the blockhouse, a group of Indians came out from Asher Creek and surprised the men, shooting them both off of their horses. The young men would die on the prairie and be eaten by wolves as well.21

All of the information thus far presented comes from individual depredation claims on file in the National Archives. Recall that the law did not allow compensation for loss of life or injury. The real travesty, however, is that each of these claims, and nearly ten thousand more, were adjudicated for as long as three decades before the United States Supreme Court finally ruled that the laws allowing for compensation were unconstitutional. Thus, none of the settlers whose stories are used here were ultimately compensated. The files for those few settlers that were compensated could not be located in the National Archives, and the staff there was at a loss to explain where they might be.22

Mrs. Julia A. Marshall had filed the claim for the property loss of the two horses and pistols that were taken when her two sons, John and Abraham Marshall, were killed. Two days before their murder her husband lost five horses and had property destroyed, so there were two separate claims. In 1882, Mr. Marshall passed away and for the next several years Julia sought compensation. She had grown bitter. In one letter she wrote

…now I want Unkle Sam for to not disappoint us any longer for we want our money for our property those savages ran off from us and shot my two boys in cold blood for to rot on the prairie like dogs and Unkle Sam was to blame for all those Indian out brakes for they went and gave them arms and ammunition for to kill us poor settlers when us settlers was trying to open up a farm stead that Unkle Sam gave to the soldiers at the close of the war. They had to be slain because Unkle Sam neglected her duty to protect us. How can they deny us from year to year we haft to pay taxes for to feed these reptiles of the forrist and it makes my blood boile for me to see how Congress will turn these blames a side from one session to session and not have to settle. Sir my boys fought for to help save our union and had to be slashed up like dogs by the hands of these reptile snakes of the forrist and it sets pretty hard on me and be sides all the boys I had in the world for my support. Sir I am old and feeble and cant part my husband are all so dead and I am left a lone beat hog or die now. I want pay for my horses that those redskins took from my boys….23

Still denied compensation Julia persisted in her efforts, this time writing to the President of the United States:

To the President kind sir

I take pen in hand for two write you one more letter in conserning those claims on Indian depradations and I trust and hope you will have those claims allowed and settled for me here ______ Off the use of those horses now 22 (20 2) years and besides the lives of my 2 boys was slain by those murdurass hands Mr. Harrison my 2 boys fought to saive our glorious union then by the neglect of Unkle Sam for to protect us settlers on the front from those savages Mr. Harrison the government was to blame for all this Indian out braik for they went and gave those Indians of arms and ammunition for to kill the poor boys with after risking there dear lives on the battle field to save our homes from the curse of slavery then had to be shot down like dogs to rot on the perarie or be devoured by wild wolves of think off it how would you a felt if it had a bin your children and besides all the boys I had for support and sense my husband has died and left me I’m Shirley a lone and I am old and feeble and can’t work I draw 12 dolars per month per claim but that does not support me I haft to pay a big tax out of that small sum of 24 dolars and my cloths and my fuel and my provisions all to be out of 36 dolars y cant a private soldiers widow draw the same amount of pension as an officers widow y issent a private soldier just as good as an officer didn’t they have just as hard fighting to do didn’t they suffer all the hard ships in the world and more so then an officer and y cant there widow receive the same a mount of pension as an officers I tried to secure increase of pension some time a go and it came back rejected and president ______ we have all the widows pension _____ a like or stop there paying taxes for they can not live at those figures for a private soldiers life is just as good as an officers life and more so in the fight off our lords kingdom for a rich person can not enter _________ so now president Harrison, president of the United States I want you to do all you can to have my Indian claim allowed and hope to here from this soon Mrs. Julia A Marshall United States24

Two months after these August raids, Indians again stormed the settlements along the Solomon River. Many settlers were victimized in both raids. The dead in this second raid included John Andrews, Alexander Smith Senior and Junior, and seven-year-old Benjamin Misell. Little Benjamin and his two older brothers were all surprised by Indians while staying in their father’s dugout, near present-day Glasco. While the two older brothers fled to a neighbor’s house, Benjamin was shot in the back and killed while trying to keep pace with his older brothers. Father Thomas was several miles away helping a neighbor plow his field and was unaware of what was happening with his children. His depredation claim showed how meager the family possessions were. Everything in the dugout was either stolen or destroyed. His total claim for compensation was only $52.55. This included bed and bed clothing for $15.00, 260 pounds of meal for $11.05, furniture for $14.00, and 25 chickens valued at $12.50. The government agent investigating the claim lessened the furniture’s value to $5.00, saying it was nothing more than crude stools and benches.25

Not far from present-day Delphos, John Smith went to check on his brother’s home site, which included John’s parents, another brother and Alexander Junior’s wife and children. John and two other brothers had joined a state militia, formed after the August raids. The militia had been stationed several miles west near present-day Asherville. When he got to the home the Indians had already completed their deadly sortie the day before, October 13. Searching among the ruins he found his father, Alexander Senior. Wrote John:

I hunted around and found father had crawled into an out house that had been built for a chicken coop. He had been shot through the right lung and they had thrust a lance and it had gone through his mouth and come out on the left side of his neck. He gave me to understand that he wanted some water…. He lived about an hour. It was two days after that before we discovered my brother, Alex, in the river. It seemed he had attempted to cross the river at that place and had failed. He had got his arm hooked around a limb that was sticking out of the water and sand and that was how we came to discover him. We saw his arm over the limb. He had been shot in the small of the back. The bullet did not come through.26

The Indians who killed the Smith men were the same Indians who captured Mrs. Anna Morgan. Husband James Morgan, a twenty-nine-year-old Civil War veteran, was helping a neighbor gather corn when the Indians surprised him and shot him, severely wounding him in the hip. One of the horses that had been with him escaped the Indian’s capture and ran back to the Morgan home. Mrs. Morgan saw the horse and feared something was wrong. Taking James’s Civil War Colt revolver, she mounted the horse and went in the direction of where James was working. When she rounded a curve in the river the Indians surprised her, knocked her off the horse with a war club and took her captive.

The interesting thing revealed in the Morgan depredation claim is James’s insistence that the raiding Indians were not Cheyenne but Sioux. Wrote James:

The reason I believe the Indians who committed the depredations at this time were Sioux is, that my wife Anna B. Morgan was captured by these same Indians at that time and subsequently upon her return she said they were Sioux. My wife was rescued by Genl Custer in the following Spring.27

This supports the testimony of James Hendershot, who viewed the dead body of John Andrews and said the raiding Indians were Sioux, “from the manner in which they scalped John Andrews, they took a long scalp while the Cheyennes took generally an oval scalp.”28

Mrs. Alderdice and Mrs. Weichel were captives taken in yet a third raid upon the same settlement on May 30, 1869. They were captured about three miles from where the violent August 1868 raids had originated in Lincoln County. The Indians responsible for this deadly raid were a band of Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, led by Tall Bull, who had escaped from Custer when Mrs. Morgan and Sarah White were rescued on March 18 in the Texas Panhandle. This tragic raid eventually left eleven dead settlers. But it is Mrs. Alderdice’s story that is most tragic, and inspired me to write Dog Soldier Justice. When captured she had four children, and was pregnant with her fifth child. Five-year-old John Daily and four-year-old Willis Daily were sons from her first husband, James Alfred Daily, who died of typhoid fever in 1864 while serving in the 17th Kansas Volunteer Infantry. Two-year-old Frank Alderdice and eight-month-old Alice Alderdice were children from Susanna’s second marriage to Tom Alderdice, a Civil War veteran and 1868 Beecher Island battle survivor.

When Susanna was captured, her boys were each shot numerous times in the back with bullets and arrows. They were left naked and covered in brush, where they were found the next day. Little Alice was taken captive with Susanna but was strangled to death in the Indian village three days later. Her mutilated and decomposed body would be discovered by her father, Tom Alderdice, about two weeks later. Susanna and Maria remained in captivity forty-two days. On July 11, General Carr and the 5th Cavalry finally found them at Summit Springs, where Maria was rescued and Susanna killed.

The most amazing part of Susanna’s tragic story was what happened to her son, Willis, for he was found alive on the prairie the day after the raid, unconscious, shot twice, speared once, and with five arrows stuck deep in his back. Raised by Susanna’s parents, he married, had three children and died in Blue Rapids, Kansas, on June 16, 1920. One of the most rewarding experiences in my research was in finding descendants of Willis, and from them I received numerous pictures of the Willis Daily family. Though Susanna apparently was never photographed, her sister, Mary, was. From Mary we get a hint at how Susanna probably looked.

There are many connections with Susanna’s story to the 7th Cavalry. When Tom Alderdice learned of his wife’s capture, he did everything in his power to try and rescue her. He even went to Fort Leavenworth, more than 175 miles distant, to communicate with General John Shoefield, commander of the Department of the Missouri, to plead with him for help in rescuing his wife and child. Before he met with Shoefield, however, he first met with General Custer, who was at Leavenworth to serve as a judge in a horse fair.29 Custer was so moved by his story that he asked Tom to relate it a second time to his wife, Libbie. She was so moved by Tom’s sad saga that she recounted it twenty-one years later in Following the Guidon.30

Coincidentally, at the very moment that Susanna was being captured in 1869, within earshot of the gunfire murdering her boys, Company G of the 7th Cavalry, under the command of Lieutenants Edward Law and Thomas Jefferson March, arrived at the Saline River to provide protection for potential raids by Indians. Many of the soldiers there that day were present seven years later in Major Reno’s valley fight, where Company G took more casualties than any other company under Reno’s command. One unfortunate soldier, present with Company G in 1869 and in 1876, Private Benjamin Wells, died when his horse bolted into the village as Reno advanced in the valley fight. His body was later found in the abandoned Indian village. I mention him because, coincidentally, his brother was married to Tom Alderdice’s sister. In 1869, Lieutenant Law had sent Wells with dispatches from the Saline River to Fort Harker, reporting the raid where Mrs. Alderdice had been captured. Indians surprised him then but he was able to fight them off. He was not as lucky in 1876.31

When General Carr rescued Mrs. Weichel at Summit Springs, he had to enlist a German soldier to translate for her, as she was a recent German immigrant and could not speak English. Trumpeter Henry Voss did the service. Voss would re-enlist and be assigned to the 7th Cavalry. He would die with Custer’s command, serving as Custer’s Chief Trumpeter.32

There was one soldier awarded a Medal-of-Honor in Carr’s expedition against Tall Bull. He was Corporal John Kyle. Kyle had earlier enlisted in Custer’s 7th Cavalry under the name Kelley, only to desert in 1867, when Custer had camped with his command at Riverside Station in northeast Colorado. After Summit Springs, he was absolved of his earlier desertion and rejoined the 7th Cavalry. His luck soon ran out however, for he was shortly after killed by Wild Bill Hickok in a wild shootout in Hays City, Kansas.33

Thus we have traveled one historical road to the Little Bighorn. I will finish with this final comment. When Susanna’s four-year-old son Willis Daily was found so severely wounded in 1869, the military surgeon accompanying Company G refused to treat Willis’s injuries. Little Willis lingered in great agony and pain for two days before a settler, using a bullet mold as pliers, removed one arrow, embedded deep into the back of his sternum. This surgeon’s callous disregard for Willis caused him to be criticized in several Kansas newspapers. He was William Renick, the surgeon who accompanied Custer at the Washita.34 No doubt the settlers in Kansas would have preferred it was Renick accompanying Reno in the 1876 valley fight, and not surgeon James DeWolf, whose spirit yet remains at the Little Bighorn. Their sentiments were that Renick was a “wretch, who would deserve little sympathy were he disemboweled by the savages and hung up by the sinews of his limbs.”35

1 Jeff Broome, Dog Soldier Justice: The Ordeal of Susanna Alderdice in the Kansas Indian War (Lincoln, KS: Lincoln County Historical Society 2003).

2. C. Bernhardt, Indian Raids in Lincoln County, Kansas, 1864 and 1869 (Lincoln, KS: The Lincoln Sentinel Print, 1910), 46

3. “Depredations Report,” Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs. Entry 96, Letters Sent, 1890, 18, Record Group 75, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

4. “Depredations”, 20-21.

5. Larry C. Skogen, Indian Depredation Claims, 1796-1920 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), 102.

6. “Depredations,” 19-24.

7. “Public Act No. 139, for the adjudication of claims arising from Indian depredations,” The Carl Albert Center, The University of Oklahoma, Sidney Clarke Collection, Box 6, Folder 32, Norman, Oklahoma.

8 Charles J. Kappler, compiled and edited, Indian Treaties 1778-1883 (Mattituck, NY: Amereon House, 1972), 985.

9 Robert Utley, edited, Life in Custer’s Cavalry: Diaries and Letters of Albert and Jennie Barnitz, 1867-1868 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977), 174.

10 “Report of Lieutenant General W. T. Sherman” November 1, 1868, Executive Documents of the House of Representatives, 3rd Session of the 40th Congress, 1868-1869 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1869), 3.

11 Lieutenant General P. H. Sheridan, “Report to the General of the Army,” 41st Congress, 2nd Session, House of Congress, Executive Document 1, pt. 2, Report of the Secretary of War (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1869), 48.

12 Quoted in Jerome Greene, Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 52-53.

13 Simeon Shaw Indian Depredation File, Claim #6441. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 123, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

14 Martha Springs Indian Depredation File, Claim #3704. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75; Hester Ann Bogardus/Snow Indian Depredation File, Claim #3704. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75; Mary Bell Indian Depredation File, Claim #3532. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75; Martha Gallop Indian Depredation File, Claim #3542. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75; James Farrow Indian Depredation File, Claim #2195. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

15 Philip H. Sheridan, Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, Volume II (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1888), 291.

16 John M. Carroll, edited, Cavalry Scraps: The Writings of Frederick W. Benteen (no city: The Guidon Press, 1979), 3.

17 Cornelius Reed Indian Depredation File, Claim #3681. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

18 Lyman and Marvin Randall Indian Depredation File. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

19 Nancy Hewitt Indian Depredation File, Claim #333. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 123, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

20 Basil Sanders Indian Depredation File, Claim #3698. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

21 Julia A. Marshall Indian Depredation File, Claim #3361. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 123, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

22 Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Volume 1. Docket Books, Entry 699. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75 (Washington: NARA General Services Administration, 1965), 202.

23 Julia Marshall Indian Depredation Claim.

24 Julia A. Marshall Indian Depredation File, Claim #6840. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 123, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

25 Thomas Misell Indian Depredation File, Claim #3629. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

26 Mary E. Smith Indian Depredation File, Claim #3736. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

27 James Morgan Indian Depredation File, Claim #3644. Indian Depredation Claims Division, Record Group 75, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

28 Thomas Misell Indian Depredation Claim.

29 Leavenworth Daily Commercial, June 24, 1869; Leavenworth Times and Conservative, June 20 and June 24, 1869.

30 Elizabeth Bacon Custer, Following the Guidon (New York, NY: Harper and Brothers, 1890), 224-225. This is all carefully recounted in Dog Soldier Justice, 118-124.

31 Broome, Dog Soldier Justice, 190. Correspondence on family genealogy with Don Wells, great grandson of Benjamin Well’s brother, Joseph Allen Wells, who married Sarah Alderdice March 25, 1862.

32 Broome, Dog Soldier Justice, 179.

33 Broome, Dog Soldier Justice, 156-159. Muster Roll, 7th U. S. Cavalry, July/August, 1867. Record Group 94, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

34 Broome, Dog Soldier Justice, 190-193.

35 Junction City Weekly Union, June 12, 1869.

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