Trail of the Dog Soldiers
Native American Story of Trail of the Dog Soldiers
The Boy's Book of Border Battles by Edwin L.
The Story of Famous Indian Wars and Battles
The Story of Trail of the Dog Soldiers
While the Indians in the Southwest were
troubling the white men during the Civil War,
the Indians of the great western plains had not
been idle. The Cheyennes, the Arapahos and the
Sioux forayed through Kansas, Nebraska and
eastern Colorado; the Sioux carried terror into
After the close of the War of the Rebellion the
United States sent a peace commission into the
plains, to talk with the Indians. The Indians
were told that now the white armies were done
fighting one another; unless the red soldiers
made peace also, the thousands of blue-coat
soldiers would be turned loose upon them.
There were many councils, with the Sioux and the
Northern Cheyennes and the Crows, in the north;
with the Southern Cheyennes, the Araphos, the
Comanches, the Kiowas and the Apaches in the
The plains Indians had been objecting to the
white travel through their buffalo grounds. The
Overland Stage road and the emigrants were
frightening the game by their Platte River trail
through Nebraska; the Butterfield Overland
Dispatch stages (not the same stages that had
pioneered in Arizona before the war) and the
emigrants were doing the same in Kansas, on
their way between the Missouri River and Denver;
and along the Arkansas River, farther south, the
old thronged Santa Fe Trail was thronged with
wagons bound for New Mexico.
Forts had been built by the United States, to
guard the roads. The Indians did not wish
soldiers in their country.
Satanta the Kiowa said:
"A long time ago this land belonged to our
fathers, but when I go up the river I see a camp
of soldiers, and they are cutting my wood down
and killing my buffalo. I don't like that, and
when I see it my heart feels like bursting with
Other chiefs spoke in similar words. But by new
treaties they were satisfied. The Southern
Cheyennes, the Arapahos, Kiowas, Comanches and
Apaches were given all of the Indian Territory,
or that which today is Oklahoma. They were
pledged to live south of the Arkansas River and
the white man's trails; they might hunt, but
they must keep away from the traveled roads and
the settlements; they would be given food and
clothing and powder and lead, on their reserve,
and would not be bothered, as long as they were
The Sioux and the Northern Cheyennes were
granted that which is today the west half of
South Dakota. They likewise were to keep away
from the white man's roads and settlements.
The wagon roads and military posts were not the
only matters that had alarmed the Indians. The
white man's thunder wagons were following the
horse wagons. The Union Pacific Railroad had
started to cross the buffalo range in Nebraska
and present southern Wyoming; and a second iron
road, the Kansas Pacific, was creeping through
northern central Kansas on its way to Denver of
The Sioux themselves had won a great victory. A
white man's wagon road had been opened, which
from Fort Laramie of the Oregon Trail in
southern Wyoming should cross northern Wyoming
and pass on into Montana. It was a gold seekers'
road. The Sioux would not have it. All northern
Wyoming had been given them, they said, for
their hunting ground, so that they would not
need to hunt in the south near the emigrant
Under Chief Red Cloud they stopped travel on the
new road; they besieged the new forts; and
finally the Government ordered the forts to be
abandoned and the road closed.
When the Southern Cheyennes and the Arapahos
learned what had been granted to the Sioux and
the Northern Cheyennes, they decided that if
they made a strong fight, then they would be
given their own prized hunting grounds of
The summer and the fall of 1867; and all the
winter had been very quiet in Kansas. The Kansas
Pacific trains and workmen, and the stage
stations and the ranches were little annoyed.
And when the spring of 1868 passed without
fighting, there were hopes of continued peace,
for at the greening of the grass the young
braves always grew restless. The spring was the
Early this spring the troops were withdrawn from
the Wyoming Powder River country of the Sioux.
The Indians had only been waiting. The Sioux
sent runners down, into the south, to tell the
"The white men are afraid," they said. "Now you
see. We stood in the way and they yielded. The
road is closed. You have a road through your
country. If you stand firmly, it will be
The Arapahos and the Southern Cheyennes
In August two hundred Cheyennes, twenty Arapahos
and four Sioux made up a war party. They put on
their war paint and left their hunting camp in
southern Kansas. They said that they were going
against the Pawnees, in the north. Instead of
going against the Pawnees they stopped and
attacked the ranches of north central Kansas,
beyond the railroad line.
This was war. It was the beginning of the
dreadful plains war of 1868 and 1869, which
turned western Kansas and eastern Colorado red.
Major-General Phil Sheridan was in command of
all this region, as chief of the Military
Department of the Missouri. He had under him
twelve hundred cavalry and fourteen hundred
infantry, to guard Kansas, Missouri, Colorado,
New Mexico and Indian Territory. But when his
troops had been scattered, for garrison duties
in the posts, and for escorting the trains and
the stage coaches, there were only about eight
hundred left, for chasing raiders.
Southern Cheyennes were the most to be feared.
The Cheyennes have been a great nation. Their
men and women are splendidly built, and
handsome, and of lighter skin than the Sioux and
the Arapahos. They are smart, their lodges are
clean, in the old days their horses were the
best. As fighters they have ranked very high;
they waged terrible war—their losses in battles
with the white men have been larger, when
numbers are counted, than the losses of the
Sioux, the Kiowa or the Comanches.
Formerly all the Cheyennes lived together in the
north, on the Upper Missouri River and in the
Dakotas. They are Algonquians, like the
Shawnees, the Sacs, the Blackfeet, the Comanches,
and so many others. Their name comes from the
Sioux name Shai-ena—Strange Speech People; for
when they entered the Sioux country nobody there
could understand them.
The Sioux drove them west and south. When Bents'
Fort was ready for trade, in southeastern
Colorado, part of the Cheyennes moved down, to
be near it. They became the Southern Cheyennes.
The others stayed in the north. They became the
The Cheyennes and the Arapahos were close
friends. The Sioux and the Kiowas made peace
with them. So after a time the Cheyennes and the
Sioux and the Arapahos, the Kiowas and the
Comanches had joined against the whites.
The range of the Southern Cheyennes extended on
both sides of the Arkansas River of southern
Kansas. They raided in New Mexico and Texas with
the Comanches and Kiowas; they raided to the
Platte River of Nebraska with the Arapahos and
the Sioux. But the hunting grounds between the
Arkansas River and the Platte River were their
At this time, in the summer of 1868, the head
chief of the Southern Cheyennes was Black
Kettle. He had been head chief for many years.
Among the other chiefs there were Tall Bull and
Roman Nose. They were not tribal chiefs, but
chiefs of Cheyenne clans or secret societies.
The Cheyennes were divided into warrior clans.
These were the clans of the Dog Men, Fox Men,
Strong Heart or Flint Men, Medicine Lance Men,
Red Shield or Buffalo Bull Men, and Bowstring
Tall Bull was chief of the Dog Men or Dog
Soldiers, who were supposed by the whites to be
the fighting clan, because their members seemed
to be as brave as the no-surrender Real Dogs of
the Kiowas. The Dog Men were the largest in
number, and the most in-dependent; they camped
by themselves, they leagued with the Sioux and
the Araphos, so that Dog Soldiers came to mean,
upon the plains, professional red fighters.
It was Tall Bull's Dog Soldiers that led in the
war of 1868.
Roman Nose (whose name was Sauts, or Bat) was
chief of the Medicine Lance Men. No finer
looking Cheyenne ever rode the plains: a
strapping, stately Indian, six feet three, broad
chested, clean limbed, with well-shaped head,
flashing black eyes, straight thin-lipped mouth,
large beaked nose and flaring nostrils, and a
stride like a monarch's. The Cheyennes were a
proud people; Roman Nose as proud as the
proudest. In a peace talk at old Fort Ellsworth
of Kansas in 1866 he had said:
"This is the first time that I have ever shaken
the white man's hand in friendship. If the
railroad is not stopped I shall be his enemy
To the peace commission last year Black Kettle
"We were once friends with the whites, but you
nudged us out of the way by your scheming. Now
when we are in council you keep nudging each
other. Why don't you talk, and go straight?"
Roman Nose himself had not come in to this
council. Almost all the Southern Cheyennes had
stayed away; they were not to be hurried into
giving up their hunting grounds. But Black
Kettle and other chiefs had at last signed a
When General Sheridan heard that the Cheyenne
Dog Soldiers were out raiding he started from
Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri River of
northeastern Kansas to take command of his
troops in person. He traveled on the Kansas
Pacific Railroad to Fort Harker, first.
On today's map of Kansas the Kansas Pacific is
the division of the Union Pacific which crosses
northern central Kansas. It had been commenced
at Wyandotte, on the east bank of the Missouri
River opposite Kansas City. It followed up along
the north bank of the Kansas or Kaw River, to
Junction City. Here the Republican River from
the north and the Solomon River from the
northwest join to form the Kansas. The iron
trail followed the Solomon for a short distance;
then struck westward up the north side of the
Smoky Hill Fork of the Solomon, for Denver of
That was also the route of the B. O. D. stage
road and the emigrant road across the Kansas
buffalo plains claimed by the Cheyennes and the
In the summer of 1868 the Kansas Pacific had run
trains to Sheridan Station, four hundred and
five miles from the Missouri River, and had
graded to Fort Wallace, ten miles beyond—or
fifteen miles by stage. The trail from Junction
City had been bloody; the plains Indians were
fighting the surveyors and the graders and the
train crews and the station hands; it had proved
to be a tough job, to build the Kansas Pacific
through the Cheyenne and Arapaho country.
There were four army posts on the road: Fort
Riley, near Junction City, at Mile Post 140,
Fort Harker (which had been Fort Ellsworth) at
Mile Post 230, Fort Hays at Mile Post 290, and
Fort Wallace at Mile Post 412 or thereabouts.
Fort Riley was well constructed, of stone; and
it is still an army headquarters. Fort Harker
was smaller and meaner, constructed of boards
and logs; it has disappeared. Fort Hays was no
better, upon the treeless buffalo plains about a
mile from Hays City. Much of Hays City had moved
on, to end of track at Sheridan. Little Fort
Wallace, out beyond everything except the stage
stations, was the most desolate of all.
So General "Little Phil" hastened by branch line
and main line from Fort Leavenworth to Fort
Harker; then when the news of the raiding grew
he went on to Fort Hays.
Matters looked bad indeed. Wagon trains and
stages and ranches were being attacked with
bullet, arrow and fire; forty and more persons,
men and women, had been killed; other women had
been carried from their ruined homes into
dreadful captivity. The raids covered all
western Kansas and southeastern Colorado. The
Arapahos and the Sioux were helping the
Cheyennes. Sheridan Station, at end of track,
had been threatened with a siege—two hundred
miles of railroad travel on the Kansas Pacific
was being halted, the stages feared to run to
Denver, and to New Mexico by the southern
trail—Colorado appealed for soldiers at once.
General Sheridan proclaimed war. He divided his
field force into columns and sent them out.
Upon his staff of officers there was Brevet
Colonel George Alexander Forsyth, aged
thirty-one, and major of the Ninth Cavalry.
"Sandy" Forsyth, the army called him. He
deserved the name. Nothing ever downed him; he
had the "sand."
He had entered the army for the Civil War as a
private in the Chicago Dragoons; he had cone out
in 1865 with the brevet of brigadier general of
Volunteers and the double brevet of
lieutenant-colonel and colonel of Regulars, as
reward for distinguished bravery; had been one
of the two staff officers with General Sheridan
upon the famous "Sheridan's Ride," October 19,
1864, from Winchester to Cedar Creek, Virginia,
which turned defeat into a Union victory.
Now when at Fort Hays General Sheridan started
his columns out to strike the Indians, that left
Colonel "Sandy" Forsyth with no fighting. This
did not please him at all. He wished action. He
asked to be detailed for field service, but the
columns were sup-plied with officers of his
rank. So General Sheridan told him that he might
enlist a scout company, and reconnoiter to the
north; might try to find the Indians who had
been raiding the ranches there.
The plan just suited Colonel Forsyth. General
Sheridan assigned First Lieutenant Frederick H.
Beecher of the Third Infantry as his assistant.
That suited, also Lieutenant Beecher (who
happened to be the nephew of the great Henry
Ward Beecher, New York preacher and orator) was
a slight, quiet young man, but he had a record.
He had entered the Civil War as sergeant of
Maine Volunteers, had acted the hero at
Gettysburg, had been wounded in the leg and
lamed for life; and had come back to the army
with a limp.
Doctor John H. Mooers of Hays City was accepted
as surgeon. He was a middle-aged man, from
Plattsburg, New York; had served as surgeon of
New York Volunteers in the Civil War, and now
had located upon the frontier, to practice his
profession and to hunt.
All the enlisted men were civilians: ex-soldiers
of the Blue or the Gray, or else for the main
part skilled frontiersmen. As soon as Colonel
Forsyth announced at Fort Hays that he was
forming a company to trail the Indians down,
volunteers offered themselves by scores, up and
down the line.
He chose as his first sergeant William II. II.
McCall, another Civil War veteran. Sergeant
McCall had risen from sergeant to
lieutenant-colonel of Pennsylvania Volunteers;
had been brevetted brigadier general for
gallantry on the field; and after having been
mustered out in 1865 he had moved into the Far
West, as so many ex-soldiers did.
The other men were of the right kind, too: Abner
Sharp Grover, called "Sharp" Grover, who would
act as guide and was reckoned to be the best
Government scout on the plains; Dick Parr, "Pet"
Trudeau and natty, smooth-checked Jack
Stillwell, aged nineteen, likewise daring
Government scouts; Plainsmen Donovan, Clark,
William Wilson, J. A. Pliley, Chauncey B.
Whitney, Lou McLaughlin, George W. Culver, Frank
Herrington, Howard Morton; Martin Burke the
Irish-man who had served in the British army in
India; old Louis Farley and his son Hudson, aged
eighteen, who were considered extra fine shots;
trappers, buffalo hunters, clerks, surveyors,
railroad hands, graders, settlers, including
college graduates who had made good here on the
Fifty were enlisted at Fort Hays, Hays City and
Fort Harker. The last upon the roll was a Jew
boy, named Sigmund Schlesinger. He was eighteen
and under-sized and insignificant and of no
reputation as a fighter; had been in America
only four years. Colonel Forsyth was in a hurry;
finally accepted him in order to fill out. The
company did not think much of this latest
recruit, but he might prove handy around camp.
Each man was to be paid one dollar a day; he
furnished his own horse—was allowed thirty cents
a day for that. He was equipped with canteen,
blankets, knife, tin cup, Colt's revolver, and
repeating Henry or Spencer caibines. The Henry
rifle was like the modern Winchester; the
Spencer carried six cartridges in the stock and
one in the chamber. They both were good guns.
Each man had one hundred and forty rounds of
carbine ammunition and thirty rounds of revolver
ammunition; there were seven days' rations of
bread, salt pork and dried meat, coffee and
salt; but no tents or wagons. Four pack mules
bore the extra ammunition, the medical supplies,
and part of the rations. Colonel Forsyth was
resolved to travel light and catch the Indians.
It took only five days to fill the company. He
led out from Fort Hays on August 29; scouted to
the north, where the Cheyennes had been killing
and plundering; and swung in to Fort Wallace—the
last of the posts. He had not sighted an enemy.
Then at Fort Wallace he heard that a band of the
hostiles had stolen horses from the stage
company station only a few miles away.
This made "Sandy" Forsyth hot. He telegraphed
General Sheridan, saying that he wished to go
out again instead of returning to Fort Hays.
General Sheridan replied: "Go ahead."
The hardy Forsyth Scouts started afresh; left
Fort Wallace on September 10. Two of the men
were ill and had to remain behind. Now the
company numbered forty-eight men and three
officers. In a day or two they struck an Indian
trail heading for the northwest. They followed
it; it split into several trails—an Indian
trick. Keeping to one of the trails the Forsyth
Rough Riders steadily pursued farther and
farther out, clear to the Republican River
beyond the northern border of Kansas.
The land was flat and bare, except for the lone
buttes or sharp hills that now and then broke
the surface, and except for the trees of the
stream banks, and the short curly buffalo grass
browned by the September sun.
Suddenly, September 14, they came upon a large
trail, recently made, pointing up the south bank
of the Republican. The next day two other trails
joined it. It was so broad and so trampled with
pony hoofs and cattle hoofs, that evidently all
the Indians whom they were seeking had traveled
"We're following the whole Cheyenne nation,"
said Sharp Grover. "I calculate that four
thousand reds have passed here; that likely
means fifteen hundred warriors."
"We'll keep after, boys," Colonel "Sandy"
declared. "Sheridan sent us out to find
The North Republican River forks in southwestern
Nebraska.. One fork is the Arikaree. The
Arikaree wends out of northeastern Colorado, and
meets the other fork in Nebraska, to help form
the main Republican. The broad Indian trail
proceeded on, up along the shallow, rippling
Arikaree. The fifty-one white men pressed after
the four thousand red men and women. On course
southwest they crossed into north-eastern
The Cheyennes seemed to have been in a hurry.
The trail began to be littered with lodge poles,
moccasins, antelope and buffalo meat. The scouts
were short on rations and game had been scarce.
The Indians had scattered the buffalo herds. But
the scouts did not dare to eat the Indian meat,
for fear that it was poisoned. They rode on,
nevertheless, hoping for a fight. Every man,
said one of them, had a fighting back as stiff
as a cat's!
In the afternoon of September 16 they entered a
narrow ravine or little gorge, of the Arikaree.
At the other end the river came down in a curve
through a grassy valley some two miles wide and
two miles long. About the middle the river
broadened in a bed one hundred and forty yards
wide, divided by a little island. Most of the
bed was dry and sandy; a current of shallow
water, a few feet wide and eight or ten inches
deep, washed the island on either side. The
banks of the river bed had been cut by the
spring floods, and were grown to grasses,
willows and wild plums.
The valley itself was beautiful, covered with
long grass. On the northeast there was a range
of bare bluffs, through the north point of which
the river passed. The land extended flatly to
the base of the bluffs, three quarters of a mile
from the island. In the other direction, or
toward the west, the land rose in a long slope.
Everything looked peaceful in the late afternoon
sun. Colonel Forsyth made camp on the slope
side, opposite the little island.
The mules were unpacked and the horses
unsaddled, so that they might graze at the
limits of their picket ropes. The orders were
strict : Every animal was to be staked close in,
and strongly staked. Colonel Forsyth suspected
that his march had been watched. He wished to
take no chances of a stampede.
After sentries had been posted and supper had
been eaten, the camp went to sleep, rolled in
blankets, here beside the quiet Arikaree, under
the stars. It was a silent country, a red man's
country still; few white persons, save old
trappers and daring buffalo hunters, ever had
been into it. No white trails penetrated it.
Cavalry scouting between the Platte River and
the Kansas River had passed it by.
The Cheyennes were not far. They had been spying
upon the column for five days. Now they had
turned—had Colonel Forsyth marched on until
evening they would have ambushed him at the
upper end of this very valley. They were going
to attack anyway.
Roman Nose was their war chief. The foolish
fifty, cut off by one hundred and ten miles from
Fort Wallace and rescue, were to be crushed by
seven hundred warriors—Cheyennes, Sioux and
Colonel Forsyth felt anxious. He sensed danger
in the air. This evening Indian fire signals
flashed through the dusk, from the bordering
hills. Tonight he was up and around, every hour,
inspecting the sentries and the horses.
When the darkness had thinned a little, and the
sky was faintly pink over the crest of the
eastern bluffs, he was standing beside the
farthest sentry in the rear of camp. Gazing
keenly, he chanced to see an alarming sight: the
feathered head of an Indian cautiously rising
above the brush of a shallow, brushy draw, near
Colonel "Sandy" shot instantly; he and the
sentry shouted: "Indians! Indians!" But the
carbine report and the shouts were drowned by a
tremendous outburst of noise. A party of the
enemy, yelling, shaking rattles and dry hides,
had dashed to stampede the horses.
The scouts had been almost as quick. They were
Indian wise—they had dived for the picket ropes.
Only two pack mules and five horses broke away;
those horses had been hobbled, in disobedience
of orders. The Indians drove the seven before
them, up the valley, pursued by bullets.
"Saddle up, men! Saddle up, quick! This isn't
Colonel Forsyth and Lieutenant Beecher worked;
Sergeant McCall and Sharp Grover worked; the
other men worked. In a few minutes they were
ready and waiting. The dawn brightened. The
colonel and Scout Grover were together, peering
and listening. Suddenly Sharp's hand clutched
Colonel "Sandy's" shoulder.
"Good Heavens, general, look at the Injuns!"
The Story of Trail of the Dog Soldiers
This story of Trail of the Dog Soldiers is featured in the book
entitled the Indian History for Young Folks by
Edwin L. Sabin and was published by
George W. Jacobs and Company in Philadelphia in 1920.