By 1862 the increasing number of settlers and the intrusion of swarms of hunters, traders and travelers of all descriptions into their hunting grounds had alarmed the northwestern tribes and aroused their hostility. Under pressure they had sold a part of their lands in Minnesota to the government but their payments were delayed and the issues of goods promised were not forthcoming. These and other matters so irritated the Dacotas that on the 18th of August 1862, an uprising took place against the whites which ended in disaster for the Indians. At first successful, they swarmed over the frontier settlements in Minnesota killing several hundred people, but the superior equipment and organization of the whites soon put them on the defensive. In this uprising the Yanktons took but little part. They and the Tetons to the west had not been through the experiences of the eastern bands and had not had the annoyances which had roused those people to fighting pitch. It was well for the whites that these warlike western bands took no part, for while they whites would have overcome them in the end, the conflict would have been drawn out for years.
During the fall of 1862, General Sibley organized an army and drove the Indians back into the plains and held them there during the following winter, while plans were being made to punish the whole Dakota nation. The plan of the camping was for General Sibley, with a column of infantry, to move from Minnesota to the Minnewaukan lake region, while General Sully came up the Missouri River from Ft. Pierre and assisted him.
Sibley moved out in June 1863 and crossed the plains to the Missouri River, fighting several skirmishes with the mixed bands of the Dakotas in Kidder and Burleigh counties. He finally drove the Indians across the Missouri at the mouth of Apple Creek near where Bismarck was afterward located. He waited here till the 1st day of August, then returned to Minnesota. In the meantime Sully was struggling against adverse conditions on the lower Missouri, his supplies which were being brought up by steamboat being so delayed by low water that he was still in the vicinity of Ft. Pierre when Sibley turned east from the Missouri. The Indians promptly recrossed to the east as soon as Sibley had left the country and resumed their hunting in the coteaus. They gradually worked to the south and east and by the 1st of September were camped near White Stone Hill in Northwestern Dickey County, Section 18-131-65. Not till the 21st of August was Sully able to move north from the mouth of the little Cheyenne river in search of Indians. By the 28th he had reached the west end of Long Lake in Burleigh county. Here he rested two days while a scouting party went of the Missouri river to look for Sibley. They found Sibley's camp site and indications that he had returned to the east. Sully was disappointed in not being able to cooperate with Sibley but determined to swing out through the hills and look for the Indians there. His scouts had picked up a few wandering Sioux who told him that the main body were hunting somewhere in the hills to the east and consequently on the 30th of August he moved in that direction. His exact course has not been identified but it seems likely that he passed near where Braddock is now located thence nearly east into northeastern Logan county.
Years ago on section 30-136-68 were found traces of an old military camp which might have been occupied by Sully on the night of September 1st-2nd; if so he must have marched nearly south on the second and third of September, for of his march on the third he says: “Major House with the advance bore off much to my left, (to the east) and came upon the Indians ten miles from the lake where we had made camp about 2 p.m.” He had already marched 20 miles before making this camp, which was known as No. 33, then made another ten miles to get to the White Stone battlefield. This afternoon camp, No. 33, was on section 24-131-67, in eastern McIntosh county.
The battle of White Stone Hill was opened by Col. Albert E. House of the 6th Iowa Cavalry, who was in command of the battalion which was acting as advance guard on the third of September and came upon the Indian camp shortly after 3 p.m. This camp was on the shores of the little lake just west of the hill where the monument is now located. Frank LaFramboise was sent to inform Sully that the village had been located. Major House formed his command in line about a mile west of the camp and advanced to within about 50 rods of the camp in this formation. From here Captain C. J. Marsh of Co. H. and Lt. G. E. Dayton, Co. C, went forward and made an inspection of the Indian camp at close range. On their return they reported that there were about 400 lodges of Indians.
Companies C and H were pushed further toward the Indian camp from House's left and made an examination of the ground, then they returned and Co. F went out to the right for the same purpose. While this was going on a delegation from the Indian camp came up to Major House under a flag of truce and tried to make some arrangement to prevent hostilities. They offered to leave some of their chiefs as hostages but Major House declined to accept this offer, not knowing which chiefs were in authority and fearing that some people of little consequence might be delivered up and the rest escape.
Major House then demanded the unconditional surrender of the entire band, which was declined and the Indians returned to their people and made what preparation they could for resistance. Major House does not mention any threat made by the Indians that they would attack him before the arrival of the rest of the army. Some writers in giving an account of this battle have said that House and his battalion were surrounded and threatened with extermination, but Major House does not report that such a threat was made. He says, “They, the Indians, placed themselves in battle array and having sent their squaws and papooses away *** Our command moved forward and the enemy retreated precipitately, abandoning everything except their ponies.”
About this time the 2nd Nebraska arrived having made the ten mile run from Sully's camp No. 33 in an hour. A little calculation here may be helpful; the messenger, LaFramboise, could hardly have reached Sully in less than an hour from the time when House discovered the Indians at 3 p.m; then there must have elapsed some little time, possibly half an hour, for the soldiers to saddle their horses, get their equipment on and get into position; then another hour would be required for them to reach White Stone Hill. This would make it 5:30 p.m. when the first reinforcements reached House and would explain why this brief battle was terminated by the coming of night. The 2nd Nebraska seems to have moved on east on the south side of the escaping Indians. As the latter had started away from their camp, according to House, they would be somewhere east of the battlefield monument. Col. Furness followed, probably coming to the south and east of that hill and caught up with the Indians near the ravine which runs to the east. Here he attempted to head them off, opened the battle and had a sharp encounter with them at close range.
In the meantime the 6th Iowa with the artillery and General Sully arrived upon the scene. The 6th moved eastward so as to prevent the Indians from escaping to the north and House's battalion also operated on that flank while General Sully with his escort and one battalion of the 6th Iowa pushed through the center.
In this drive through the practically deserted village Sully's men collected a number of prisoners, among them Little Soldier and his band. As this Indian had always been on friendly terms with the whites the capture does not seem to have been very important, it is probable that Little Soldier and the others who were taken at this time were more than willing to be captured rather than be pursued by the cavalry and treated as escaping hostiles. It is doubtful if very many guilty Indians were taken by the soldiers as there were several hours during the afternoon when it was entirely possible for those to escape who wished to do so. There can be little doubt that the Indians knew that Sully's entire outfit was close at hand and would have to be reckoned with. They were too experienced in frontier affairs to have failed to have information of the movements of a body of troops as large as Sully's brigade. When the battle started and the Indians were forced to fight no doubt the first to escape were those who had most to answer for, although there is every indication that only a small part of the entire camp had been guilty of participating in the Minnesota uprising. The Indians in this camp were from nearly all the Dacota bands and even included some of the Tetons, who had nothing to do with the Minnesota trouble, but when they were cornered in the ravine east of the White Stone monument, they fought in self defense and guilty and innocent suffered together.
House with his battalion, supported by the 6th Iowa pushed east along the north side of the retreating Indians. They seem to have gone too far in their efforts to head off the retreat and allowed many to escape to the north behind them. This movement so far to the east also had another unfortunate result in that it placed them almost in front of the 2nd Nebraska, which resulted in many casualties by these troops firing into each other in the confusion and gathering darkness. Col. Furnas says in his official report, “At this juncture I became convinced the House's battalion, mistaking my command in the darkness for Indians, were firing into it. I therefore ordered my men to fall back out of the range of House's guns and mount their horses as the Indians were now in a rout and fleeing.”
With the settling of darkness over the field most of the troops bivouacked in the place where night found them, and the wounded were collected as far as possible. Most of the Indians made their escape for the short period of daylight which was left when the army reached the Indian camp that afternoon left little time for a battle and it had not progressed long when night interrupted operations. There were many pitiable scenes as there always are during and after a battle. Children lost from their Indian parents some being tied to travois and strapped to dogs, wounded people on both sides, crippled animals suffering in silence, wrecked weapons and equipment among the dead white and Indians.
On the morning of the 4th detachments were sent out in all directions to try to overtake the Indians but they were scattered and gone and few were taken, about one hundred thirty all told, many of these being women and children. An old soldier who was in the battle tells of the children being hauled away in army wagons after the battle, and fed by breaking a box of hardtack open and dumping it into the wagon box. No one knows their ultimate fate or whether or not they ever were released and found their people again. The dead soldiers were collected and buried on a hill about a quarter of a mile north of where the monument now stands but wild animals or possible hostile Indians dug into them and scattered the bones about before they were finally placed in their present position about the monument.
Evidently not much time was spent in burying the dead Indians for their bones were still scattered about when the earliest settler visited the place. Thomas Shimmin tells of finding many articles of camp equipment on the grounds in the early days before it had been disturbed by curious people who probably did not even know that a battle had been fought there. Great quantities of dried meat and pemmican were collected by the soldiers and burned along with robes, furs, tipi poles and all the other combustible property of the Indians which they had abandoned in their flight. Sully estimates the meat burned at 250 tons. On the 4th wagon trains and reserve battalions were east to White Stone Hill from camp 33 where they had been since the afternoon before. Animals were rested, supplies issued, Indian property destroyed and scouting parties combed the country for Indians but did not find many.
That the Indians were not entirely cowed by their defeat is shown by a sharp skirmish which occurred about five miles northeast of the battlefield between a detachment of twenty-five men under Lt. Hall and a war party of three hundred Indians. Lt. Hall says in his official report: “In compliance with order from Brigadier General Sully, commanding Indian expedition, I proceeded, on the morning of September 5th, 1863, with twelve men of the 2nd Nebraska Cavalry and fifteen men from the 6th Iowa Cavalry under my command on a scout in search of Surgeon Bowen, Sargt. Newcomb and eight others missing from the 2nd Nebraska Cavalry, after the battle of White Stone Hill on 3rd instant.
“I proceeded in a northeasterly direction from the battlefield, and when five miles distant therefrom, I was attacked by a party of some three hundred Indians and seeing that I could not successfully resist their attack, I retreated slowly, returning the enemy's fire until my command was so closely pressed by the enemy that the men increased the rapidity of their retreat without orders.
“I attempted to halt them several times, but unsuccessfully. The enemy all the time pressed closely on my rear and also endeavored to cut off my retreat to the camp, from which I had started in the morning, and which I reached with what remained of my command about twelve m. that day, the enemy pursuing to within four miles of the camp.
“The casualties on this scout were six men and four horses killed. Sargeant Blair, Co. K, 2nd Nebraska Cavalry, Sargeant Rogers, Sargeant S. Smith, and Sargeant Isaac L. Winget of the 6th Iowa Cavalry, assisted me in my efforts to control the men and check their hasty retreat.
“I discovered no trace of the missing of whom I was in search, who, however, returned to camp a short time after my return and on the same day.
“The men under my command succeeded, while retreating, in killing six Indians and four ponies and wounding many others, the number not known.”
Another incident which seems to have ground for belief is the one related by Wm. V. Wade, a pioneer who crossed from Ft. Wadsworth to Ft. Yates in 1872 and who still lives at Shields in Grant county. Mr. Wade has been among the Indians for fifty years and has had many opportunities for getting their stories.
When Mr. Wade was at Ft. Yates in 1875 the well known Sioux, Rain in the Face was arrested by the soldiers and taken to Ft. Lincoln for trial.
Before leaving Ft. Yates there was considerable excitement over the arrest and among others who urged the Indians to resist and rescue “Rain in the Face”, was an Indian woman, a sister of the old chief Two Bears. This woman upbraided the warriors in Mr. Wade's hearing and said, “Go and fight those soldiers, don't let them take “Rain in the Face” away to prison; you men are not warriors anymore, you are no better than a lot of old squaws.” She went on and related what she had done personally and told how after the battle at White Stone Hill some of the Indians had gone to Mud creek now called Elm River; the soldiers followed, she hid in some brush near the creek. A soldier on a horse came near and dismounted to get a drink. As he lay down to drink she stole up and drove a knife in his back. He died. She hid again. Another soldier came, his horse mired in the mud and fell, pinning the rider under him and she killed him too. Mr. Wade tells me that he has heard this story from other Indians also and believes it to be true.
On the morning of the 6th of September Sully started back for his base at the mouth of the little Cheyenne River in South Dakota where he arrived on September 11th. His course from the White Stone was in a southwesterly direction but he does not give distances traveled or other details so it is impossible to locate it exactly. The Indians made the best of a hard situation and most of them were found the next year on the west side of the Missouri where Sully met them at Killdeer mountain and again defeated them. They never again met the soldiers in battle east of the Missouri.
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