The following letter is excepted from:
The Battle of Beecher Island,
Fought - September 17. 18, 1868
The Beecher Island Battle Memorial Association
Photograph Source University of Kansas
Mr George Martin, Secretary
Kansas State Historical Society
I was stationed at Fort Wallace, Kansas as captain, Tenth United States Cavalry, in command of troop H of that regiment, at the time of Forsyths fight on the Arickaree Fork of the Republican in 1868.
On the 21st of September, 1886 , I left the post with my troops and about fourteen citizens scouts, some seventy men in all, under orders to proceed westward to Sand Creek and endeavor to keep the road to Denver clear of Indians, who had been seriously molesting the stages and interfering with the delivery of the mails.
On the 22nd we encamped at Cheyenne Wells and made an early start on the following morning. About ten oclock a courier overtook us with a dispatch from Colonel Bankhead, commanding Fort Wallace. The communication stated that the men belonging to Forsyths party arrived in the post with the information that Forsyth and his scouts had been attacked by over 700 Indians on the dry branch of the Republican River above the forks.
Half his men had been killed and wounded: Doctor Mooers and Lieut. Beecher killed, and Forsyth himself wounded three times, one leg shattered with a comminuted fracture.
The party was out of rations and had nothing but horse meat to live on.
The couriers had escaped through the Indian lines by night by using the greatest caution, and had succeeded in reaching Fort Wallace.
General Sheridan directed that every effort be made for the relief of Forsyth, and word had been sent to the troops stationed to the north in the posts on the Platte.
Colonel Bankhead stated that he himself would leave the post as soon as possible, with about 100 men and a Howitzer, and march for the forks of the Republican, and that he expected me to do all in my power to relieve the beleagued force. Bankhead took both of the Forsyths couriers with him; therefore I have no guide with me.
Forsyth was said to be on the Dry Fork of the Republican, about north-northwest of Fort Wallace. The map I had with me was as good as any, but utterly inreliable concerning the section of country in question.
A point north-northwest from Fort Wallace appeared to be about north 10 degrees west from mu position on the Denver road. I directed Lieut Orleman to see that this course was followed, and have decided to take my wagon with instructed the wagon master to keep them close up with the troops, we left the road and started across the plains.
In the afternoon we crossed some dry branches, and, not knowing which dry branch was alluded to were forced to carefully reconniter each, and not finding any sign, we moved on. Finally late on the 24th, we reached a stream with plenty of water, the south branch of the Republican, with wide meadows of lowland on each side. (Possibly the Gandsmann Creek, but could have been Sand Creek, below the Bonny Dam. S. E. M.)
In the lowlands there ran a large fresh trail, over which a least 2,000 head of ponies had recently been ridden or driven down the stream. It was so fresh that I was apprehensive that the Indians were near at hand, and therefore pushed on rapidly to the side of the stream, where the wagons were corralled and preparations made for a possible conflict.
Some time elapsed, and as nothing appeared I took a few men and rode to a hill nearby from which I could get a good view down the river--the direction in which the trail ran.
On my arrival at this place I found several scaffolding on the top of the kind customarily used for the burial of the dead as a protection from the wolves. As they looked rather recent in their construction, we pulled on down, and having unwrapped the body from its robes, found that it was an Indian killed within a short time by a bullet wound.
Several others were examined with the same result. These Indians had evidently been killed lately in some fight in the vicinity, and the conclusion was that it must have been with the Forsyth scouts.
On the opposite side the river and up a small ravine we found a small tepee of clean, white robes, and on a frame inside lay the body of a warrior wrapped in buffalo robes. He was evidently someone of consequence, and later was identified as Roman Nose, the principal leader in the fight with Forsyth.
On our return to the camp and talking the matter over, it was concluded that the chances were that the Indians had come from the fight with the scouts and we thought that probably all had been scalped, but that the best course would be to follow the back trail and not attempt to follow the Indians down the river.
Early in the morning of September 25th I took my scouts and a detachment of troops and a light ambulance, and left the wagons and the rest to follow under Lieutenant Banshof, and move at a rapid rate on the back trail.
As we expected, it soon left the river and turned northward. After marching about twenty miles we came across the heavy breaks of a large stream, with deep gullies and ravines cutting the ground up in the limestone formation. We picked our way to a point from which we had a good view. Far below a dry sand river ran, and we could make out what appeared to be an island in it well to the right. Near the island some figures could be seen moving about, and as we advanced they seemed to have discovered us and to be retreating to the island.
We moved on through the rough rugged breaks, sending the ambulance and some men by an easier route.
We made out that the figures were white men, and pressing forward, we were soon with the survivors of Forsyths fight. Forsyth was lying in a place scooped out in the sand, effectually protected from the hostile fire.
I knew him personally, having served with him on Sheridans staff in the wilderness and Shenandoah campaign, and of course was delighted to be of service to him in this emergency. He was too weak, shattered, and nervous to be able to talk much, but this was not necessary, and I knew that he was overjoyed that his men were relieved.
I reached Forsyth, and his party twenty-six hours before Bankhead arrived from Fort Wallace. He and Brisbin, with some troops of the Second Cavalry came together, having met at the forks of the Republican. In the meantime I had pitched some tents a quarter of a mile farther up the stream, carried all of the wounded to the new camp, and made them as comfortable as possible.
All of the horses belonging to the Forsyth party lay dead in a circle around the pits dug in the sand for protection from the Indian fire. As the rations had given out, the only food available was the horse meat, which was in a dreadful condition, and some that was to be used the day we arrived nearly made anyone sick who happened to be near. We distributed some bacon and hard bread which we had brought with us, and many of the scouts certainly had a wolfish look of extreme hunger.
Doctor Jenkins Fitzgerald, of the medical corps of the army, was with me and attended to the wounded, who had been without medical attention since the death of Doctor Mooers, who was killed early in the action by an Indian shot.
Doctor Fitzgerald, told me that blood poisoning had set in Forsyths case, and twenty-four hours further delay in his treatment would have cost him his life.
On the arrival twenty-six hours before the others of the relief parties must have resulted in saving Forsyths life. The story of the desperate conflict with the Indians can best be told by the participants in the affair. As soon as the necessary arrangements could be made we returned with the wounded to Fort Wallace where Forsyth lay for three months between life and death. He would not allow his leg to be amputated, and it was finally saved--a wonderful cure due to the skill and ability of Doctor Fitzgerald and his assistants.
L. H. Carpenter
Brigadier General, U. S. A. , Retired
Dr John Productions
The New Buffalo Soldiers, Shadow Hills, CA.
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