- Historic Sites
The Forty-Day Scout
A trooper’s firsthand account of an adventure with the Indian-fighting army in the American Southwest
June/july 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 4
September 6th, 1872 —Leaving “D” Troop to guard Camp, General Gregg, with the remaining three troops started out at 6 A.M. to search for Indians. After traveling fifteen miles we came to a trail made by a large party of Indians, a day ahead of us. Examined and crossed the trail. After marching seven miles farther we came to the main canyon, “Canyon Blanche.” The General examined the canyon with his field glasses, but saw no Indians, took a short rest and then started to return to Camp. When come to the Indian trail, changed our direction to follow it. The General thought we would find something more definite in regard to the number of Indians and the whereabouts of their Camp. Followed their trail five miles but gained nothing by it and was only going farther from Camp. Even now it will be impossible to reach Camp before night overtakes us. Changed direction and set out for Camp. Several horses of the Command showed signs of giving out. One of ours had to be shot as it was impossible to drag him along. Marched until darkness set in without striking our trail. Rode along in hopes of seeing something that would give us an idea of the whereabouts of Camp. After wandering around for a couple of hours the Command halted and we realized that we were lost on the plains. The probabilities were that the farther we traveled, the farther away from Camp we would wander. To make our situation more disagreeable a cold rain commenced to fall. …
So dark did it become that I could not see the man riding by my side who was within two feet of me all the time. About this time several shots were fired in quick succession in rear of the Command. We halted at once, when Captain Bankhead, “M” Troop, dashed up and reported to the General that a number of the men of the Command were back with played-out horses, and he thought it was them firing to find out where the Command was. The General ordered several shots to be fired in the air, and sent some men back with orders to shoot what horses had given out, and for the men dismounted to join their respective troops. Another of our troop came walking up showing that he had left his horse to bleach on the plain.
When all the men caught up with the Command, we moved forward only to become more confused. In this way we continued to wander until near midnight, when the General becoming satisfied that it was impossible to find our Camp, halted the Command and gave orders to unsaddle our horses. Wrapping up in our saddle blankets, half the Command turned in to sleep, while the other half held the horses. “My bunky” and I drew lots for choice of the guard. I won and took first watch. …
At the first dawn of day all were up and in the saddle. After an hour’s ride we came in sight of Camp. We had marched beyond it during the night. If there ever was a lot of happy men it was us. After eating a big breakfast, we all turned in to sleep, for both men and horses are badly in need of rest. During the day and night we marched fully fifty-five miles.
September 7th, 1872 —Have just woke up from my sleep and feel very well considering everything. The rain continues to fall. … Some of the men are still sleeping although their blankets are wringing wet. I imagine that I feel the effects of this exposure in my bones, but suppose it will soon pass away.
Sunday, September 8th, 1872 —I was awake and moving around earlier than usual this morning and am feeling splendid. This morning completes “three years” of my bondage in the service of the United States. Only two years yet remain and when that time rolls around and I receive my freedom papers, my happiness will only require one thing more to be complete and that is to be home with you. …
Sept. llth, 12th, and 13th, 1872 —Marched respectively twenty-seven, eighteen and fifteen miles. Nothing of interest occuring. Only one day’s ride yet to Fort Bascom.
September 14th, 1872 —Broke Camp at 8 A.M. Have only fourteen miles to make before reaching Bascom. As mile after mile was traveled, you could see the men cheer up, while an animated conversation was carried on until we rode up to the post. When the Command went into Camp the .mail was distributed to the men. How anxiously I waited for my share but instead of receiving a letter, I was sent out on picket. Never in all my life did I feel so sad and disappointed.… I had anticipated spending a happy day perusing your letters, but alas, what a disappointment. There is no use trying to describe my feelings as I rode out to the picket station.… I arrived at the station and seated on my horse, I gave way to my feelings. Could not control them any longer. And although I am a man in years, I am not ashamed to cry on such an occasion. A half hour passed in this way when I saw one of our troop approaching (the young man with me on the buffalo hunt, spoken of in another part of this diary), he had both hands full of something, but I could not tell what the something was. He soon reached me and said, “Here, Ed, is a lot of mail for you. I thought you would like to have it as soon as possible, so I brought it out.” My heart was too full to thank him for his kindness, but instead I broke open your letters, devouring the contents like one that had been starved and then set before a repast. …