“Dont Let Them Ride Over Us”


Later in the day, Forsyth sustained a third wound when a bullet grazed his head. Though he was unaware of it at the time, that bullet fractured his skull. On the fourth day of the fight, the ball in his right thigh became so painful that he removed it himself with a razor.

ZIGLER: About the time I had dug a hole that I could partly lie in, I heard [Henry] Tucker say, “I’m shot through the arm and I would like to have someone tie this handkerchief around it to stop the blood.”

John Haley was nearer to him … but before he got it tied, a bullet struck him. I told [Tucker] to come over where I was. … We lay facing each other. He wanted me to draw the handkerchief pretty tight … and just before I got done tying the knot … I felt an arrow strike me on the upper part of my right leg. Looking down, I saw the arrow had passed through Tucker’s left leg above the knee. … I examined the arrow and found that just part of the steel had come through. Tucker asked me to pull it back, so I pulled it once; it was very painful to him … and I could not move it. I then took hold of the point of the arrowhead that was sticking through his leg, and with the other hand hit the feather end of the arrow and drove it through. After tying the arrow wound, I left him … thinking I might yet get across the river, but just as I came to where Jack Donovan was lying behind a little bunch of grass, with a little sand thrown up around, he said, “You stop here. One of us can dig while the other shoots and we will soon have a hole big enough for both of us.”

HURST: … Comrade Burke then came in and dug a hole near by us and kept digging until he came to water. He filled his canteen and passed it over to the next, and so on … until all in reach had been supplied. … Burke then told us his experience. He had crawled along [toward an Indian] until he reached a hummock, and raising himself, almost bumped noses with the Indian and it so surprised him that he … punched his gun at [the Indian] and shouted, “Booh!” and ran for us. He said he thought the Indian ran the other way, as he did not hear him shoot. …

… two warriors had been shot by Louis Parley as he lay on the north bank with a broken leg. They were in full view of him as they crept along a ridge of sand made by the water where it divided to go around the island. Both were shot through the head…. This had an intimidating effect on the rest and so stopped that mode of warfare.

Frank Harrington and George Clark were on the north bank with Parley from early morning until after dark, and though they were all wounded, they did not cease firing. Several times the Indians rode over them. Harrington was wounded by an arrow in the forehead over the left eye. Clark, who lay next to him, tried to remove it but could not. Shortly afterwards a bullet hit a little above the arrow, cutting through the skin, but not fracturing the skull; it came so near that it knocked the arrow loose.

McLOUGHLIN: The Indians expected to get the scouts in a very short time and kept charging in a circle. With short intervals they charged on every side at the same time. They expected the scouts would fire all their shots and when they stopped to load would ride onto them and slaughter them. The Indians nearly all rode on the opposite side of their horse and shot under their necks.

The scouts were all good shots and the slaughter of the Indians and their horses was terrible. … Two or three times if the Indians had kept on a minute or two longer they would have got us, as sometimes we would hardly have a shot left when they broke. Finally … about half of them crept up all around [us] as close as they could get shelter and commenced to sharpshooting, and the rest kept charging.

… we dug holes in the sand. In the meantime, they shot our horses down. … At this time Wilson and Culver were dead, Lieutenant Beecher and Surgeon Mooers were mortally wounded, the Colonel was shot through the thigh and the ankle. About seventeen of the men were wounded, some severely. Louis Parley was mortally wounded, and he died nine days later.

Spurred on by confidence that great magic protected him against harm, the Cheyenne warrior Roman Nose had often acted with extraordinary fearlessness during battle. He believed, though, that his special “medicine” could be destroyed if his food was touched by iron after being cooked. Shortly before the battle, the warrior had visited the lodge of a Sioux chief where he was served food that his host’s wife had lifted with an iron fork. Roman Nose had eaten before he discovered what had happened, and the battle at Beecher Island had begun before he could go through a purification ritual. Believing that without the protection of his magic he faced certain death, Roman Nose entered the battle only after much urging by his men. Scout McLoughlin described what happened in the first charge Roman Nose led: