Red Cloud's War

Find out all about Red Cloud's war and terrorism of the Bozeman Trail

In June of 1866 the United States Government organised a great Peace conference with the Sioux and Cheyenne at Fort Laramie. With Civil War hero, William T. Sherman heading the council, great chiefs like Dull Knife, Spotted Tail and Red Cloud were brought in to talk. Sherman wanted permission for white emigrants to cross the Indian lands as well as for permission to build three forts on the Bozeman trail, which connected the Platte River with the mines of Montana. Speaking for the Indians was Red Cloud of the Oglalas. He announced that no such concessions would be made. When he saw soldiers marching off to build the forts before the council was even finished, Red Cloud angrily broke off the talks and stormed out. The whites were warned to watch out for their scalps.

The task of fort building proceeded regardless. The first taste of Red Cloud's fury came at newly built Fort Phil Kearney, when brash Captain William Fetterman - who claimed that with 80 men he could subjugate the entire Sioux nation - was wiped out along with the 79 men under his command. When a group of wood cutters were caught outside of the Fort, Fetterman rushed to their rescue. Despite the clear warning from his superior, Colonel Carrington, not to pursue the Indians, Fetterman did just that. He golloped after the feinting Indians into the Lodge Tail Ridge and out of sight of the Fort. Over the hill Red Cloud waited with the main force of warriors. They streamed upon the hapless Fetterman destroying the eighty men whom he had so proudly bragged that he could wipe out the Sioux nation with. The Fetterman massacre was the army's worst western defeat up to that date. The only thing that stopped the entire fort from being overrun was the terribly bad weather. The Fort's commander, Colonel Carrington, sent out a scout on a perilous, frozen bid for help. After a heroic journey this scout he reached a telegraph wire at Horseshoe Bend where it was possible to contact Fort Laramie and call for help. However the message did not get through. The courier, Portugee Philips rode on, finally able to get to Laramie. Reinforcements were rushed to Fort Phil Kearney. Red Cloud's warriors quickly dispersed.

On August 1st Red Cloud came back. This time he attacked both Fort Kearney and Fort C F Smith. About 500 Cheyenne warriors came across 30 civilian hay cutters about two miles from Fort Smith. After a stand off the Indians retreated, having lost 20 of their number. The next day an attack came against Fort Kearney. Among the warrior band were the greatest of their warrior chiefs, Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and American Horse. Again the Indians managed to cut off the wood cutting crew outside of the fort. The wood cutters had a guard under a Captain Powell. Powell soon had his men forted up inside of a corral of 14 wagon beds, specially brought out for this purpose. There his sharpshooters began picking off the Indians. Holding their fire until the 500 charging warriors were within 50 yards, the soldiers rained a hail of fire upon them that split the Indian forces in two. The repeating rifles of the soldiers left the Indians no room to breath. The Sioux soon fled. 60 Indians were dead and about 120 wounded. Powell lost six men and two wounded.

Despite the fact that they had lost these two encounters, which became known as the Hayfield Fight and the Wagon Box Fight, the Indians were still causing havoc on the Bozeman Trail. In April, 1868 General Sherman called for another meeting to try to talk peace with Red Cloud. In the face of the deaths that had littered the landscape since the last talks, they took Red Cloud a little more seriously this time. In fact, they virtually conceded to his every demand. The Bozeman Trail was closed and the three forts along it were abandoned. Red Cloud in turn promised to "˜try' to keep his young warriors from going on the warpath.

The soldiers whom had fought so bitterly to keep the road open felt betrayed by this "˜surrender' from higher up. As they rode out of the Powder River they could already see the smoke rising from the torching of their Forts.

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