- Historic Sites
The Redskin Who Saved The White Man’s Hide
Chief Washakie earned his battle scars in the service of the Great White Father, who—for once at least—kept faith with an Indian
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
General George Crook, United States Army, angular and bearded, resisted the impulse to consult his watch again. From the opening of his tent he could have seen the wide stretch of sagebrush-covered hills to the west over the willow bottoms of Goose Creek, but he was tired of looking at it. Why didn’t Washakie come?
The place was near Sheridan, Wyoming Territory, June 14, 1876. Crook, with eleven hundred cavalry and infantrymen, was campaigning against a determined alliance of Sioux, Chcyennes, and Arapahoes led by Chief Crazy Horse. They outnumbered him four to one and they were well armed. In three hot skirmishes on the march from Fort Fetterman, Crook had acquired a deep respect for the warriors from the Rosebud and their allies.
Crazy Horse had sent word that “every soldier who crossed the Tongue River would die,” and though Crook had the strongest force ever seen on the Irontier, lie knew that he would need Indian reinforcements. He planned to cross the Tongue River the next day. Two hundred Crows under Old Crow, Medicine Crow, and Good Heart had arrived that afternoon. The Shoshones under Washakie had ended their old feud with the Crows two years previously. Now they had ottered the Army full co-operation against their common enemy, the Sioux. Washakie had never broken his word yet, and he had promised to join Crook with the best of his fighting men—but where was he/ Crook was determined to move the next day, without the Shoshones if necessary. But he didn’t relish the prospect.
Then, over the noises of the heavily fortified camp, Crook heard the alarm call sound. A large body of horsemen, in smart columns of lours, was rushing down the steep slope from the west. One lone man on a magnificent pinto rode in the lead: another followed, carrying a long staff topped by an oriflamme of eagle feathers. This bearer was Hanked by two horsemen who broke out huge American flags as they approached the camp. Every warrior carried a glittering lance ornamented with a small pennant. At a sharp command from their leader, the long column swung into a parade front and halted.
Eyewitness accounts do not agree as to numbers, but there were between yo and 160 superbly mounted warriors in that long, stiff line. Besides lance, shield, and pogamoggan (war club), every one carried a repeating rifle and a revolver. They were stripped to the waist, in full war paint, and decorated with brass and feather ornaments. The troops who had gathered at the alarm call cheered, and the Crows gave their ancient enemy a fierce cry of welcome. The Shoshones had arrived.
Washakie dismounted and warmly took Crook’s extended hand. It was hard for Crook to realize, despite the snow-white hair that hung down over his shoulders, that this Indian was over seventy years old. Here he was—having come 160 miles and across two mountain ranges from Fort Washakie—dignified, proud, and anxious to support his white friends.
Washakie asked where his warriors were to be quartered. Then he barked a command and the still-stiff line, with clockwork precision, swung into fours and trotted smartly off. Washakie promised to join Crook and the Crows in council immediately, mounted his war horse, and followed his men.
At the council of war the Shoshones and Crows insisted that in the forthcoming campaign they be allowed to operate separately from the Army. Both pointed out that they had more experience in fighting the enemy and preferred their own methods. Crook agreed. He asked only that they maintain contact with him at all times. Washakie requested a detail of soldiers to be attached to his braves, so that the rest of the Army would not mistake them lor the enemy. Crook decided to postpone his march one more day. He wanted to strengthen his present position so that he could leave his wagons there under light guard. Also, both he and Washakie had agreed that the Shoshone horses would benefit from a day’s rest.
Moving west, the Army crossed the Tongue River early in the forenoon of June ifi. Crook had mounted his infantry on mules from the supply wagons to give his corps greater mobility. They met no opposition from the Sioux, but returning scouts reported that they had found the trail of a large village moving north. Crook turned north into Montana, halted late in the afternoon, and bivouacked for the night.
On June 17, with extreme caution, they marched into the Rosebud country. The Indian allies who had been moving on the flanks now took the lead, with their medicine men well in advance. The Army struck the headwaters of the Rosebud and marched downstream. Suddenly the Shoshone and Crow warriors returned at lull gallop, shouting, “Sioux! Sioux! Heap Sioux!” Then they whirled to give battle.
The Shoshoncs took up a position at the head of a large coulee, where they had full view of the enemy as he swept down on the main concentration ol the Army five hundred yards below. Then the Shoshoncs, with a disengaged wing of the infantry, swung into the Sioux horde and delivered a withering fire. With a wild howl the Crows smashed into the opposite Bank, and the impact of the attack was broken.