The 18th U.S. Infantry and the 2nd U.S. Cavalry,
A very small part of our collection consists of a handful of letters written by two young troopers in the 2nd United States Cavalry; three written by Harvey S. Deming, from Ellsworth, Maine, and one other letter by his friend and fellow enlistee Frederick W. Mixer, from Lowell, Massachusetts. An additional letter from Mixer, in private hands make a total of five letters extant.
These two friends joined the regular army on May 17, 1866, in Boston, and there began their service in the post Civil War army. After their training at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, the troopers went west to the various forts on the northern plains and became involved in Red Cloud’s War; a bloody fight for the control of the Bozeman Trail (in modern day Wyoming) leading to the gold fields of Montana.
While Fred survived to share the sad tale of Harvey’s death in the Fetterman Massacre, near Fort Phil Kearny, on December 21, 1866, Harvey’s letters are a short but fabulous record into the life of a fresh recruit in this early horrific western tragedy; one of the Army’s worst single disasters.
“The Harvey Deming Story” is being written and submitted in parts, as they are completed, but not in chronological order. Like pieces of a puzzle, they will come together, as time and research permit. The story takes on a novel type feel, to put flesh on the bones of real history. Five letters, and available historical books and data, along with my interpretation of their everyday thoughts and actions will hopefully bring you a good understanding of these young lives in this historic era. Look for the reference to “The Harvey Deming Story” as other articles will also appear on our collection page, highlighting other significant artifacts for the 18th U.S. Infantry and the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
Newest Version-work in progress
The Smokey Hill Road
Part of “The Harvey Deming Story.”
Now heading west from Fort Leavenworth, the Smokey Hill Road was certainly well traveled and filled with multitudes having that single purpose of migrating to the west for a new start. Eastern Kansas was well settled with finely constructed homes; some more well appointed than others. Businesses representing every need to the small communities about them, being well supplied by the flow of commerce from the many packet boat companies on the Missouri River, bringing most of the staples required for everyday life. A rich landscape filled with trees, lush green grasslands, had the resemblance not all that different from the eastern states; a place one would like to settle down in, now that a good deal of the hostilities had ended. Harvey had envisioned the west looking much more arid and desolate; an untamed land of open spaces reaching as far as the eye could perceive. He would have to wait a bit longer for that vision to materialize. At least the troopers thought the sights before them were most interesting with the congestion of traffic flowing along the new road, filled with emigrant trains creeping forward at a snail’s pace, while Concord stagecoaches hurriedly breezed past the slower encumbrances.
Young troopers in fresh new uniforms brandishing their martial arms could not however fool many of the travelers who as veterans of the Rebellion, knew the look of recruits, and paid them little attention. The inexperienced troopers mustered all within their power to assume the appearance of seasoned warriors, while the youthful faces betrayed that notion. Yet they nobly gestured to the fair young ladies, who had looked upon admirably by tugging on the brim of their slouch hats, returning the enamored glances and those inviting smiles.
Wagons of all types were pressed into service; huge prairie schooners, older eastern conestogas, massive freighters, and oversized two wheeled carts being pulled by mule, oxen, and occasionally horses. Folks from all walks of life sat behind the reins, or rode horseback; men and sons walked beside, or behind their wagons while prodded the family cattle tethered to their wagons, enticing the animals onward. Some preferred shoes to wheels,or had no other choice but to hike as far as their legs could take them with burdensome bundles strapped to their backs, hoping they could bear up under the strain. Precious family possessions were crammed into, or strapped down on wagon boxes; clothing, furniture, tools, and other implements and goods of tradesmen and farmer alike, and all manner of articles needed for their futures. A never ending array of sound fill the air; wagon wheels groaning under there massive weight, animals vocalizing having to pull them. Babies cried, children at play never letting circumstances deter their merriment as parents kept constant vigil in the commotion. Songs and hymns were quietly sung or hummed to the sweet melodies played on jews harps and fiddles. And of course there was the unmistakable sound of bugle calls, and the familiar clatter and clanging of cavalry equipment to match the civilian counterpart of pots, pans and other loose gear dangling from wagons.
The stagecoaches were the most annoying to all on the road, carrying the well heeled travelers with the financial means to get them quicker to where they were going. Over cramped in the close quarters of the coaches cabin, they had the look of distain on their faces as they peered out tiny windows; but then it may have been the inability to move freely, or escape the heat and smells hovering about them. Drivers snapped there bullwhips over the heads of the horses adding several “yip-yip” followed by more cracking of leather. Dust swirled up in spirals in their wake covering everything and everybody, followed by the coughing and swears being hurled by those having to endure the unpleasantness. Stages scurrying to the west or returning eastward bound for another run cared little except keeping a schedule, which meant money.
Several days on the march had brought them just past Junction City, Kansas. Freight wagons hauling numerous supplies for road crews and camp followers building the ever-expanding Union Pacific Rail Road had progressed to this point, and not long in the future would be fighting the Smoke Hill Road for the right of way through the plains. The emigrant trains had spread out at this point, as each one had assumed its own pace. The stagecoaches ran a steady stream to and fro. Travelers utilizing the stage line had business matters to attend to, but now the wealthy enthusiasts and professional hunters ventured west to hunt the bison that blanketed the plains.
Waylaid wagons with broken down wheels or running gear, or worn out animals were passed occasionally, while tired homesteaders with once big dreams and weakening resolve looked beaten after traveling only a hundred plus miles since the beginning on the road. The sad countenance on the faces of those experiencing misfortune so soon on the road, matched that of the young soldiers; now on their forth day’s march that seemed weeks ago to some. The sight of these poor fellow travelers was having a negative effect on his men, and Lieutenant Peale brought their minds around with the blast of a bugle call, and gave the command to proceed to cantor past the sad scene at roadside.
With their officers and noncoms spurring them onward, the recruits marched steadily behind the guidon snapping in the warm wind in their faces, leather creaking, and horses snorting, sensing a number of their riders knew little of what they were doing in the saddle. It hadn’t been long before muscles began to ache in their backs and legs. Increasing soreness appeared along the column as uneasy shifting in the McClellan saddles becoming more chronic. The elements and a stifling heat of day caused particles of dust to cover all the exposed skin and sweat only added more discomfort. Horse sweat permeated their nostrils as the inner thighs of the troops became drenched in their own moistness, making for a slippery mess on the saddle leather. Kids fresh off the farm, or city where now experiencing first hand aspects of army life they had not given thought to. And the journey west had only begun.
Harvey Deming had no idea that this part of the journey could be in part the blame of a fellow Mainer, by the name of Daniel A. Butterfield. Having left Maine some time ago, Butterfield dreamed of making a success out west, and with his young family, moved to Atchison, Kansas. In 1862 gold was discovered in the Colorado Mountains, near Denver. Seeing the potential for establishing himself there in business, the Butterfields relocated to what was most likely a safer place to raise a family. Not truly knowing what problems might arise so far to the west, Butterfield’s decision may have risen from the immediate problems glaring before him in the form of warring factions such as Jayhawkers or Border Ruffians, Red Legs, and the infamous confederate partisan William Quantrill and his guerilla raiders, all contributing majorly to how the ugly word “bloody” fused itself like an infectious plague on Kansas.
With great optimism and entrepreneurial aspirations, he started up his Denver grocery and commission business, yet the visionary ability within Butterfield saw the need for faster more economical supply, and began planning out a road from Denver to the Platte River Road in Nebraska Territory then on to Kansas.
Clearly seeing the need to being closer to the source of supply, the Butterfields returned to Atchison once again in 1864, with the war still raging, there continuing in the commission business. Now strategically in place, and becoming an agent for several packet boat companies working their trade on the Missouri River, Butterfield was handling delivery of goods every two weeks, and with this capability, renewed his plan for a road to Denver to supply the growing mining community there. His shrewdness was apparent for now Butterfield was off to the east coast to look for investors in what he now was referring to as the Butterfield Overland Dispatch (BOD).
After establishing an eastern headquarters for the BOD, he developed his plan and finding major investor backing had raised $3 Million in capital to begin work on the stage and freight road to Denver. Growing now with offices in many cities, advertising effectively, and fortuitously benefiting from the government already having sent the U.S. Signal Corps and troops of the 3rd Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry already in progress of surveying the Smokey Hill Road. Mapping out the road, establishing the stage stops, and commencement in the building of military posts along the road for protection, Butterfield’s dream, with the military’s assistance was quickly becoming reality. By the time that Harvey and the column of cavalry had reached the Smoke Hill Road in early July of 1866, it had been just over a year that Butterfield had established the road.
As the end of a days march was drawing near, Lieutenant Peale made the decision to bivouac near the grounds of the Solomon River Station which was a hard thirty some miles from Junction City. As the column loped past the station, a fresh team of horses was being changed on the coach, while several of the passengers puffed on cigars monitored the work being done by the stagehands. Another hired hand whipped down the interior, extracting the dust as best he could from worn, thin cushioned seats. A small train of several wagons only had stopped to water their animals at the Solomon River, and allow the ladies in the party to peruse the goods in the station house if any. A blacksmith was hard at work repairing a damaged wheel rim in his crude shack just to the side of the horse corral, while a steady jack held the crippled wagon aloft. All in all, it was a needed distraction at the end of another long day in the saddle.
Lt. Peale marched his men across to the western side of the river, and bringing the command to a halt, had the men dismount. The sergeants called out the names for particular details, while the rest of the command walked the tired animals. Thirsty horses being deprived of water at the river crossing wanting a well deserved drink, with their riders getting to first things first; they needed cooling off then they could have their fill. The government wagons were brought up; each in line and spaced out a good distance with picket ropes running between them where the mules were tethered. Similar arrangements were performed for the commands horses; all separated to allow them ample space for grazing on the lush grasslands near the rivers edge.
Having witnessed the stage hands changing out the horse teams at various home stations of the BOD, he marveled how this men handled the process so rapidly; usually getting a coach and its passengers ready to move on in five minutes of so. The stations themselves were not impressive buildings, being made of logs, or sod, or a combination of both. Many of the stations had been concerned with attack when the Cheyenne had been raiding along the Smokey Hill last year and before. To this point, all had been calm except for dealing with angry officer’s and sergeants frustrated with the slow development of the recruits, while the former were mostly to sore, and frustrated themselves. All they had done since leaving Leavenworth was ride, and camp, with their officers wanting to deliver them to the inheriting companies, at Forts McPherson, NT, Sedgwick, CT, and Laramie, DT.
*NT- Nebraska Territory; CT- Colorado Territory; DT- Dakota Territory (most of the fighting taking place in present Wyoming).
As they turned in for the night the men laid their shelter halves on the ground; their grey brown wool blanket by their sides if the evening got cooler. Harvey laid his head on the saddle, using his sack coat as a pillow even as dirty as it had become. Easing himself down to the ground, his muscles ached and he rolled over and with his head cradled by his saddle. Strange, but for the first time in his life Harvey took the time to stare at a spectacular sunset displaying a gorgeous golden color at the bottom of the horizon with crimson streaks rippling through the sky above. In several minutes as the sun went further down below taking its golden treasure with it, the crimson colors began to turn to purples and blues. Harvey was truly taken with the scene, and softly called out to Fred to ask what he had thought about the array of colors. Fred had fallen asleep leaving Harvey to contemplate in solitude this magnificence after another hard day’s ride.
The last entry that Harvey had made in his journal was the night after leaving Fort Leavenworth, since then he had been too exhausted to attempt to record what may not be coherent thought. He would remember this night, not because of where he was, but for the first time in his life, he had taken the time to appreciate the wonders of this earth and the heavens. He had taken far too much for granted in his young life, it moving along so rapidly up to this point. As the blackness of night enveloped the camp his mind struggled between sleep and an uneasiness that was disturbing him since hearing some of the horrible tales from some of the old soldiers at Leavenworth, and their stories about the warring tribes in the country they were marching to. This night an exhausted mind and body was an ally, and Harvey fell asleep too tired to ponder another troubling thought.
Two days more on the Smokey Hill, and soreness worked its evil in places the troops had no clue existed. The officers were tiring daily with the economy of speed exhibited by the recruits. Lt. Peale, and Lieutenant Grugan still managed to cope with the difficult task that had befallen them, but such were the problems with newbies and so patience was required. With the experienced help from the veteran NCOs, the two officers began to formulate a list of the men in the command that had enough wear withal to be called upon if the column were to come into some trouble further along the road. The column was nearing the last few days remaining on the Smokey Hill, and then real concern for the command’s safety would be paramount.
Upon arriving at Fort Ellsworth, many of the troopers had expected more of a fort than a hovel. At least Harvey boasted that the fort had been named for his hometown. Fort Ellsworth was only large enough for one company, never intended as a staging post, but established to protect the central Kansas area and the travel on the Smokey Hill Road. Huts for the officers and men had been dug out near the banks of the Smokey Hil River, and there was not much for permanent structures other than a large sod building that was used by the commissary, a sutler’s store; other than that log shanties covered in sod was all the post could boast about. There was also a home station for the BOD here, but beyond Ellsworth, freighters, emigrants and the ever-moving stages bid goodbye to civilization, if the post could be called that. For this night’s stay, they slept in company with fellow cavalrymen of their regiment, and the feeling of security in numbers.
Conversing that evening with the men of Company “F,” 2nd Cavalry, the recruits asked worriedly too many questions, then later took time to separate truth from balderdash concerning what could be expected to the westward. The soldiers at this post, like soldiers anywhere, relished in filling the heads of recruits with as much disconcerting news as possible. What was truth is that the Indian raids on the BOD had decreased a good deal, as the military had sought council with the chiefs of the Cheyenne and Arapaho to curtail the raiding, and rumor hinted that earnest endeavor was near to fruition. The duty for the company at Ellsworth was physically and emotionally exhausting, mostly beening escorting stages along the road when rumor had it that Indian trouble might be brewing. Where the recruit column was heading was another truth that didn’t make anyone comfortable. Fort Fletcher, the next post of several days ride from Ellsworth was the last post before the recruits headed north. The BOD from Ellsworth carried on straight toward Denver, which Butterfield determined would shorten the route considerably. So the question was; what did the trail look like that the recruits would be taking?
Harvey’s sergeant informed him that the recruits were to receive their company assignments while at Ellsworth. Harvey was to go to Company “C,” but the sad news was his best friend was moving to “E” Company. In his second letter home, that he would eventually get a chance to write once arriving at Fort Sedgwick some weeks away, Harvey had upgraded his assignment in the west to something verbally a bit more foreboding, as now, in place of “guarding emigrant trains”, the army’s roll was absorbing greater risks now, “to keeping the Indians quiet.” He and Fred still had still had some time together, as none of the recruits had been divvied out as of yet.
A few facts that were unknown to all at Fort Ellsworth, was that this post was to be re-named Fort Harker in that November, and Fort Fletcher, an abandoned post beyond Ellsworth, would soon be re-garrisoned and called Fort Hayes in December. An interesting comment made by Harvey in his second letter home dated August 11th, from Fort Sedgwick stated this, “My regiment is stationed all along the Frontier lines its duty being to keep the Indians quiet. The Headquarters being at Ellsworth we were of course assigned to our companies there. We left E (Ellsworth) with about 120 men for three companies.”
What is somewhat confusing are other sources had named Fort Riley as the headquarters for the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in this time period, and it might have been Harvey’s confusion due to the fact that here at Ellsworth, the recruit assignments were made. In previous letters, Harvey had been very forthcoming in naming every post he had traveled through or assigned to. There was never any mention of Fort Riley. If he was indeed correct, movement of the Union Pacific Rail Road was quickly moving west and would have enough track laid to be approaching Fort Hayes (old Fletcher) several months after Harvey and the recruits went through there just a bit earlier. Military actions in the Mountain District of the Department of the Platte, called for the companies of the 2nd Cavalry to move closer in support of the actions curtailing the ever expanding Indian war that was concentrated mostly along the emigrant road to Montana, or better known as the “Bozeman Trail.”. Fort Riley was too far east to maintain effective control over its twelve companies that were spread too thinly to offer significant support to the their counterpart, the 18th U.S. Infantry. However, at the time of the recruits marching west, records indicate that Company “I” of the 2nd Cavalry were indeed garrisoning this post and most likely there to support the UPRR.
Having taken an extra day at Fort Ellsworth dealing with assignments, and resting up for the next leg of the march, the column moved west once again toward Fort Fletcher. Fletcher had been disbanded since May, and had been garrisoned by volunteers with little to do with Indian raiding becoming less of a burden. Being only 65 miles west from Ellsworth, the justification for having two posts in close proximity made no sense The post’s existence had been short lived, having been established on October 11th, 1865, during that period of unrest following the Sand Creek Massacre of Black Kettle’s band of Cheyennes at the hands of the 1st Colorado Cavalry under Colonel John Chivington. the winter earlier.
Approaching Fort Fletcher, there was no mistaking the presence of immense buffalo herds having left large swaths of grass cropped in their passing. A true God send, that would serve as a life long lesson to the recruits was the knowledge that buffalo chips were a ready-made fuel source, deposited all across the prairie, and a blessing it was in a land lacking the timber to gather fuel from. The landscape was taking on change as grass on rolling hills was becoming thicker, and trees only dotted the horizon along the Smokey Hill River.
In an amazingly long 5 days journey to cover those 65 miles to Fletcher, surely the old cavalryman with the command by now had accepted the idea, that the march was going lethargically. After arriving to that place, the column halted for the evening covered by a grove of cottonwoods. Looking about the abandoned post, and keeping Ellsworth in mind for comparison, both posts were a far cry from being confused with any growing concern that one might considered “well established.” If forts were going to continually decline into well-fortified watering holes, what could be expected at Fort Sedgwick, CT, which was to be Harvey’s next permanent post? Boston must have looked pretty good at this point in their adventure.
The rough trail that was originally the Smokey Hill Trail, making a jog northwest from Fort Fletcher towards Fort McPherson in Nebraska Territory where it joined with the Platte River Road, was really a falsehood being referred to as a trail.. The command was strongly advise to keep a sharp lookout, for Indians, which is exactly what the troops had been told by fellows in Company “F.” Leaving the next morning, unbeknownst to all, the officers marched the command nine miles out of the way, only to about face and march back the next day.
Harvey made mention in his August 11th letter, “the next morning the fools instead of leaving the road kept right on and marched us on to the next Ranche 9 mile from there before they found out their mistake. “since we started on the march from Leavenworth we have marched….300 (miles) of which only one train had ever been over and we followed their trail ……..to the Platte River Road…We hung around there long enough for both of them to get drunk and then the order “Fall in” was given and we started back for Fletcher arriving there at about 11 o’clock p.m. The next day we left the road and started right across the country with nothing to guide us but a trail that was nearly a year old and almost gone. We marched about 18miles that day and went into camp about two o’clock p.m.
After doubling back, the two officers took to the bottle “long enough to get drunk” before continuing on the right trail, apparently the pressures of commanding a unlearned bunch had finally brought them to the need for libation. With the officers having some liquid refreshment the night before, the correct direction of march was established and another day in the saddle of 18 miles brought them to there next camp sight at two o’clock in the afternoon. As the command had done every night, the army wagons were lined up in row and picket ropes extended for securing the mules. Unfortunately, now in the thick of rich grasslands, a herd of buffalo stampeded 18 of the mules.
“….there we were with six large army wagons Loaded rations and other quartermaster stores and not a mule to haul them. We staid there 9 days waiting mention occurred that day but on the next we saw a herd of Buffalo which the Lieutenant estimated at seventy-five thousand in number and from that there to the time we struck the Republican River we had all the Buffalo meat we wanted.” About four or five days after that at about 1 o’clock p.m. we saw what we took to be a herd of Buffalo about five miles off….”
The column spotted an immense buffalo herd near the Republican River. As was true to form in the early Plains days, that many buffalo usually meant Indians following the herd, at least the experienced westerner assumed such. And as the whites came to know and the Indians feared, was the knowledge that south of the Platte to the Smokey Hill River to the south, was the best grazing land for Buffalo in the region. But upon further inspection it was determined by Lieutenant Grugan that they were Cheyenne. Lt. Peale ordered the wagons up to the side of the main column. Watching their movement intently, at this point the Cheyenne were about two miles off. Advancing slowly, vision was lost briefly as the column entered a little ravine, but regained visuals in several minutes.
Not long after moving out of the depression of land, the two parties had closed to within a mile; the Indians were positioned on top of a hill were they watched the cavalrymen move cautiously before them. Both officers were monitoring their movements, equally leary. Three braves now rode forward to within a half mile in advance of the main party, and there the three dismounted. All eyes watched with keen interest, no doubt hearts were pounding, and hairs were at attention on the napes of their necks. The troopers watched as two Indians began to wave a big blanket around their heads three times, then straighten it out on the ground, sitting upon it. Not knowing what the deuce this meant, Harvey and the others watched the two officers return to the main column.
*Indian symbolism of waving a blanket over the head held many meanings to various tribes in the west, but to the northern plains tribes, and in this case Northern Cheyenne, the blanket waving was a signal for a parley.
Lt. Peale, calmly began to order a tightening of the security of the wagons, and insuring the recruits that the Indians appeared to be a friendly hunting party, and that everything would be fine. Sergeants checked along the column to see that all weapons were loaded, and that the men knew what would be expected of them if trouble raised its ugly intent. Lieutenant Grugan, now had the opportunity to call upon the men that could perform the role of seasoned cavalryman, calling out the names of six troopers. Harvey had been one of those orders forward as part of that detail to escort the lieutenant forward to except the 3 braves blanket signal offer to parley.
Harvey’s eye witness account is recorded in the August 11th letter, as the scene continued to play out this “When they go up to them the Indians got up shook hands gave the officer a white flag about as large as a pocket handkerchief and then came riding back to the column with the officer and of all the sights I ever saw that beats all. They shook hands with all of us and then they gave one whoop and down came all the rest of them yelling more like a pack of wolves than anything else and for about five minutes I thought they were going to scalp all of us but at last they got quiet and though they out-numbered us and were all armed to the teeth while we only had fourteen guns I began to feel safe again.” It is a possibility that Fred was called forward too, he being a veteran in the Civil War. The reason Harvey was ordered forward as part of that detail suggests he was a veteran as well, for reasons that will be discussed in other parts.
Regardless of why Harvey was picked to go forward, those eastern recruits were feeling the rush of massive surges of adrenaline gushing through their vanes. With hearts pounding, and nerves stretched to the limit, it is quiet doubtful if saddle sores, and other tired muscles were registering on their minds,
Imagine the remainder of the Indians who came on whooping, and sounding like wolves, again adding to the nervousness of the soldiers. Harvey did not mention the number in their party, but significant enough to have counted the carbines and revolvers among the soldiers, and realize he and the others were out numbered. As the Indians came on rapidly, the soldiers could see they must have been wearing little for clothing given the time of year; war paint was not mentioned either in the letter, but the loud, high-pitched wolf like whoops certainly must have left an indelible impression on the whole column.
Harvey made note of the weapons that the 6 man detail possessed, but now studied the awsome array of bows and arrows, war clubs of various types, and an assorted collection of old and new rifles and pistols that had been obtained in the many raids taken from white settlers and travelers moving along the Smokey Hill road. He had been told at Ellsworth in one of the enlightening conversations that Indians had little trouble in obtaining Henry Rifles and other newer arms sold by civilian traders, and scrupulous sutlers happy to take money from any with the means to pay his price. Harvey had not on chance to fire a round out of his Spencer carbine that he had carried since leaving Leavenworth, and likewise the Remington New Model Army revolver had more dust in the barrel than the slightest hint of powder residue. Lieutenants Grugan and Peale had shown their metal in this first encounter with the Indian, and Harvey had taken comfort in their calmness and professionalism displayed. He could feel his cheeks burning, and it wasn’t the sun, browning his complexion, but pure unadulterated fear that was coursing through ever nerve in his body.
He watched the Cheyenne intently, trying to anticipate any trouble, but simultaneously was engrossed in studying the Red Man close up. The air was full of different odors that were recognizable, some not so; earthy scents enveloped the conclave like animal,smoke, leather, and other odors unpleasing and indescribable. There was also the hint of human excrement as fear in someone, probably one of the troopers, could not be held in check. There brown skins glowed in the sun, with most of the braves wearing enough he thought to pass at least for some form of dress. Moccasins were different to the man, each having a different look about them, as was the same for the other paraphernalia either on their belts or else wear.
He thought to himself that many of the braves had the same uneasiness about them; their eyes darting every which way, taking in the scene, and learning from the impromptu meeting. A surreal moment nearly threw his mind into an involuntary trance, as all his senses were overloaded with too much to comprehend. Strangely, he wanted to start writing in his journal, not wanting to forget the least insignificant impression, memory; even the ever present fear and excitement melding together within him.
The words between red and white were incomprehensible, as the Lieutenant seemed to have some idea of signing to get some meaning across. This was more than likely going to be a big summing up by both parties. The Cheyenne didn’t seem to want anything, and loud utterances and a lot of pointing; a good deal in the direction of McPherson, and in the direction they had come from. What ever it was, several minutes passed by quick enough, and parties slowing moved off away from the other. Heads turned over the shoulders, maintaining vigil for any overt movement that would immediately disrupt the mutual piece.
Harvey and the other five troopers formed in line behind Lieutenant Grugan, and they returned to the main body, who were still pent up with emotion, having no clue to want had just transpired. Over curious soldiers called out with questions, as the sergeants reprimands pulled them back into a military mindset. Lt. Peale ordered the wagons to remain up, now placing them in between two separate column of twos. A rear guard was formed, as well as a pair of men to ride forward to reconnoiter over the next rise. The command moved out smartly, now every mind grasping to remember any of what they had learned in training, and on the march to this point. Maybe for most, perhaps all, they realized they were in the cavalry now, and the seriousness of their surrounding was at the forefront of their being.
No ammunition was expended, nor had arrows been launched in their general direction, Harvey sounded a bit more relaxed, conveying only what he wanted to share with his mother in his August 11th letter home, and choosing instead to spare her any worries, as well as those prevalent on his mind since crossing the Missouri River at Leavenworth.
Harvey’s first encounter with Indians, also made him see the importance of understanding the terrain. Without trees, it became harder to judge distance, and with the undulating land and buffalo grass constantly moving in the breeze, the plains replicated heavy rolling ocean waves, where an unsuspecting military column or civilian wagon train could find themselves enveloped immediately by hundreds of Indians, lying in wait behind one of numerous ravines before them on the expansive flowing landscape. One Indian could observe undetected for any given amount of time, and leave to make report without ever making his presence known. It was a beautiful land with the greatest of potential, but a very deadly place to move through without having proper instruction or prior experience.
The lonely, undeveloped trail to Fort McPherson brought a heightened sense of urgency to learn about these people for word had it that war was inevitable. The near future would test what lessons this journey had taught.
Harvey had left history with this observation about the old abandoned section of road that was part of the Smokey Hill Road, “…only one train had ever been over……. their trail which leads from the Smoky Hill road in Kansas to the Platte river road in Nebraska and rather than go over that road again I would give up my whole three years pay, I know this will seem like a very great story but as true as there is a God in Heaven it is true that we never saw a tree or a rock from the time we left the Smoky Hill up to the time we struck the Platte river 29 days and sometimes we went all day and night with-out water.”.
There is no doubting the column stopped at Fort McPherson for a needed rest, enjoying a hot meal, and some reprieve of sleeping another night in the open prairie. A short rest at that post along the Platte River, a march of 120 miles and the two officers would deliver the recruits to their awaiting companies at Fort Sedgwick around August 11th, the date of Harvey’s second penned installment home. If the march from Fletcher had brought useful instruction of what lie ahead, then the arrival at Fort Sedgwick, in Colorado Territory was going to make soldiering as confusing as hell.
Interlude At Fort Laramie
Part of “The Harvey Deming Story”
As he had in Boston a few short months earlier, Old Man Winter once again commenced his renewed campaign, whipping up morning frosts, and chilling the evening breezes, preparing the interlopers of the plains for another winter’s episode. With September quickly coming to a close, that sharp nip in the air signaled the first clear indication that summer was losing out to the new oncoming season. Could one dare to say that events on the plains were heating up? The regiment had been shifting its companies, moving further north and west, as the foreboding news from the Bozeman trail warned of increased bloodshed. Isolated posts needed reinforcement, and Harvey’s company would soon be in their midst. Neither one knowing their future, Harvey and Fred shared their last few poetic minutes on earth together it seemed, reminiscing of home and of family and countless other things young soldiers far from the States share with one another as they walked around the post, and conversed that last evening in solitude.
Fort Laramie, unlike the other posts in the Department had the look of permanency about it. It had begun its life as a stockade fur-trading fort many years earlier. The post was a blend of old and new buildings, rambling on the plain near the meandering Laramie River.
An obvious choice for visitation for two young troopers while on their evening sojourn was Bullock & Ward’s, the post trader’s store, which was one of the oldest buildings in Dakota Territory. It was stocked with all manor of niceties the army didn’t supply, even if over priced, such items were still in demand. Earlier in the day, while on duty, Harvey had noticed the usual commotion as throngs of emigrants and Indians flooded the place to gawk or purchase desired and needed possibles. It was a sight to marvel at, even here so far from home in such a remote land, nothing truly changed as it had in Boston, with only feathers and slouch hats taking the place of fanciful bonnets, and beaver top hats. This far west, the staples of life, or the tantalizing delicacies in the store were a magnet for all. Harvey chuckled to himself seeing a tall Indian in nothing more than a colorful loincloth standing outside of the traders, taking in the entire remarkable scene while sucking on a peppermint candy stick.
The store in the evenings took on a blue hue of federal uniforms, as off duty soldiers now filled the place, enjoying what was left of their day before the evening’s tattoo sounded. Fred had experienced the sutler’s offerings, having come to the fort in late August with his company “E,” and now he watched with amusement the look on Harvey’s face as they walked in to what must have seemed a treasure vault with the store shelves displaying enticing goods such as canned fruits, candy, crackers, pipe tobacco, alcohol, bolts of textiles, knives, and so on with only the wide counters to separate them from their desire; card playing, and billiards kept many occupied while alcohol provided its own form of mellowing entertainment, or numbing for those unwilling to face tomorrow without Bacchus’ assistance. Harvey treated himself to one of those peppermint sticks to enjoy while on their walk. Curiosity aroused and now satisfied, they continued on.
Out the door of Bullock & Ward’s and immediately they were on officer’s row. In only a matter of minutes an attractive young mother darted across their path, attempting to round up two fleeting youngsters heading for the wide open space of the parade ground, they seemed not ready for bed; speedy little feet carrying tiny bodies as little arms flailed about them wildly. A smile came to the young soldier’s faces, gazing at the pleasing distraction, only to quickly notice a young lieutenant of infantry without forage cap and unbuttoned sack coat coming their way, surely acting as reinforcement to rein in his juvenile detail. The lieutenant while giving chase, quickly returned their salutes, he bidding them a good evening, and they in turn reciprocated. As they walked on, they could not pull their attention away from the scene as successful parents captured the escapees amid their children’s exuberant, and infectious laughter.
Around the parade ground toward the guardhouse would have eventually brought them into 18th Infantry country, and keeping to themselves, the two young cavalrymen ignored the jeers, and crude comments playfully thrown by the foot soldiers, while milling around their barracks. There always seemed to be the unwritten rule separating the horse soldier and those who traveled by shanks mare. Funny really, there had not been much difference between the foot soldier and the troopers except a horse, as both had been equally employed as laborers in construction and other similar details at Fort Sedgwick, with military matters taking a less strenuous course. No matter, in the pinch, soldiers were in it together.
Cutting back towards Bullock & Ward’s again from across the parade ground they viewed a dilapidated Indian burial pyre standing by itself there, and all they’d heard was that it was some final resting place of a big Lakota chief’s daughter who had died and wished to be laid to rest among her white friends at Laramie the past winter. The story had come to Harvey piece meal, that she was in love with a young volunteer officer, and nothing would dissuade her longing for him. A long absence from her friends at Laramie had only increased her anguish; she could not reconcile being so far away from where her heart was. Sorrow, and the lack of desire for nourishment, combined with the bone chilling cold of wintering on the plains finally brought the inevitable mortal sickness. Her father, a Brule chief mournfully granted her last request to be laid to rest at the army post she so loved. As a saddened people approached the post, the previous Colonel in command at Laramie had sent a military detail to escort the bereaved family to the young maiden’s final resting place.
moving ceremony combined her people’s traditions with full military honors and a Christian prayer. Harvey thought how sad a story, yet so out of character for a fierce people his country was at war with. Surely this touching story proved the human characteristics deep within, made Red and White closer than he dared to realize. Reaching the pyre, her weathered wooden casket lay perched on the milled posts. The ever decaying remains of her two white pony’s skulls and tails were still mounted on the corners there, as were the traces of material and beads hanging loosely about the pyre. Continuing on their walk, they headed for the stables, and the more jovial and familiar territory for two young cavalrymen.
That cool evening breeze swept over the post, carrying with it, the scent of wood fires and the lingering odor of the evening’s meals, along with sage and the earthy fragrance emanating from the government corrals, no longer registering on the mind or the senses, as it had become subliminal to the young troopers. Sounds of horses and mules baying, soldiers talking, laughing, playing, joking, carrying on as they were used to doing. Music and song filled the air softening the mood. With danger lurking far beyond the confines of this post, a soul could find some peace here. Fear, uncertainty, the disquieting sense in the bones of impending doom, for that premonition of death surely may have been tugging away at their nerves; so far from home and in such a surreal setting.
Guilt over the grief that Harvey had caused his mother after his enlistment was still weighing on his mind. Being away from the home and loved-ones, Harvey and Fred’s rudimentary training as cavalrymen, nor prior service had not prepared them, certainly not for Indian warfare. Had life really been that tough in Boston?
Mixer had witnessed war first hand, and assuming so, Harvey did too. Prior service during the war was hard, and just as deadly. A confederate soldier dressed and fought pretty much the same as they did. The opposing armies fought using similar tactics, with their officers and generals studying war from the same manuals, hell, from the same military schools. Many from both North and South had shared the dangers together in the Mexican war, and on these very western plains; close as brothers, many still felt that same way toward another having worn a different uniform. As brutal as war could be, there was still a civilized manor in how the fighting was conducted. Acts of bravery were at times equaled by unselfish deeds of humanity. Surrender meant ones honor lost, not unimaginable torture at the hands of your adversary.
The stories they had heard were not wives tales, but chronicled truths of the horrors of fighting the Plains Indian. This was his country, the advantage already conceded; a month of training and a long ride out west was not enough experience to rely on. They had witnessed early on a different kind of mortal fear at the first encounter with the friendly Cheyenne near the Republican River in Kansas. At first, the shear terror of being scalped after hearing the countless stories of barbarity must have nearly filled their being with dread. Harvey could not shake off the fear when first hearing their harrowing “Whoops” as he called them, as their band rushed them on the trail after leaving Fort Ellsworth. This Cheyenne band had been hunting buffalo when the column spotted, or more likely, the braves had first spied the oncoming recruit column.
After a few pursuits of raiding parties while at Fort Sedgwick, they were learning more about their enemy, and the unconventional manor in which he was waging war. Hit and run tactics after torturing their victims; which was a ghastly, unthinkable sight to describe, let alone have to look upon. Having seen the war paint, and their manner of dress or lack of it, hearing blood curdling war cries; just the whole unfamiliarity of everything about the Indian and their new lives in the army made them question their judgement in having enlisted. Weighing their odds of survival in this untamed frontier with the ever intensifying conflict exploding before them, had Harvey and Fred no doubt magnifying the danger, though very real it was.
Surprisingly, even the lack of trees was disquieting in this strange and wide-open land to Harvey. Everything that they’d read or seen, or experienced in their lives to this point had prepared them not. Most likely they put on a good face to bolster one another up before turning in, deep down however, they probably left one another in a somber, and rather pensive mood. No doubt Harvey planned to meet up with Fred down the trail in time; He swore not to let fear consume him and he and Fred would attempt another crack at success in Boston. Harvey had noticed, not only in himself, but the other recruits that had come west with him, that bold talk was only a front; being young, 10 foot tall and bullet proof attitude was nothing more than bravado that only disguised their most inner fears.
Harvey and Fred said their final goodbye, giving each other a brotherly hug, one of significance that needed no words. Harvey snapped to an exaggerated attention and gave Fred a salute. Fred with a smile followed suit, then swiping with the saluting hand, backhanded Harvey across the chest. Now both in a playful mood they bid the other good night, promising each other to take care, and recite their prayers. With a meaningful glance, and another hardy handshake, both reluctantly returned to their respective company areas.
Early the next morning, Fred Mixer and his company “E” road out of Fort Laramie for Fort Casper, another small garrison established along the Platte River just a few days march to the northwest. Fred and Harvey were once again separated. There was much that could have been said the night before, but without uttering a word, both knew the next few months were to be most precarious for all. It was probably best not to have discussed any of it. As Harvey watched the column move slowly over the hill to the west on the well-traveled Oregon Trail, his eyes glossed over some, that same feeling within him, that premonition of death that had been haunting him of late once again welling up within him not allowing him peace. The company guidon flickering in the wind disappeared in the swirling dust of the column’s wake, now the only visible sight. Harvey stood still with eyes still focused on that spot for a few seconds, and with his pair of gauntlets clutched in his right hand, he slapped them against his thigh as he turned and headed for the stable. Laramie would be his post for about a month more, and then his company would follow the same trail, but only to a post even more remote; Fort Phil Kearny, the seat of hatred on the bloody Bozeman Trail.
A Friend’s Letter Home
Part of “The Harvey Deming Story”
It was a cold late February day in Ellsworth, Maine, when Mary Joy sat prayerfully holding a letter in open palms from the young man who had enlisted with Harvey. She had so longed to get Harvey’s letters, as each one provided the instant relief that he was still among the living. She no doubt had followed what little news there was from the territories that were seldom printed in small local papers, searching diligently for the scant lines that may or may not bring some word of his whereabouts. Unlike her neighbors, she held a great interest in the army’s endeavors on the plains, and the little posts where her Harvey had been garrisoned. Her mind raced wondering why Fred would be writing her; had Harvey been hurt….. had he been…….. Her eyes filled with tears, until she could no longer put off the inevitable, gingerly opening the cover with tender care. Drawing the letter forth, unfolding it, she dabbed her eyes with the cuff of her sweater, soaking up the tears, breathing heavier she placed her hands holding the letter on her lap to brace the shaking.
Mary took a deep breath, and began to read softly narrating in a rhythmic whisper affected by a constant sobbing.
“Fort Casper, Decotah Territory
January 14, 1866
Upon me devolves the sad and disagreeable duty of informing you of the death of my dear friend Harvey which occurred on the 21st of December 1866, 3 weeks ago. It is indeed a painful task for me to inform you of your bereavement, but after some hesitation I concluded to do so knowing how glad my own dear Mother would be to be informed of my decease rather than remain in suspense.
While in Boston, Harvey & I were great friends last winter almost inseparable and boarded together at No. 2 Crescent Place. I enlisted in the Army with him on the 17th May last (which I know you must have felt very bad about and greatly blamed him for) we came together as far as Fort Sedgwick, when I knew he rec’d letters from you and seemed to regret that he had caused you so much trouble. He was assigned to C Company, 2nd Cavalry and I to E. I went to Fort Laramie his Comp came there from Sedgwick in Sept. and we were together once more. We (E Co.) were ordered away on the 24 Sept to this post and have been here since. On the eve of the 23rd I and Harvey had our last interview on earth and were walking together in the evening talking of home and Friends soon after C. Co was ordered to Fort Phil Kearney 200 miles from here, where the Indians were very hostile. A terrible fight occurred on the 21st Dec. in which poor Harvey fell shot through the body together with 26 other comrades. I have taken great pains to ascertain the facts, also to inform you Have written my Brother in Boston, would have written his (Harvey’s) Uncle but knew not his address in Boston. He was very decently interred at Post cemetery Fort Phil Kearney on Christmas Day. I will say no more for fear you will never receive this as I so not know your proper address if you would be so kind as to acknowledge receipt I would write You will probably see accounts of the fight in the papers by the time this reaches you.
I am Very Respectfully &c.
Clerk Co. E. 2nd U.S. Cavalry,
Fort Casper, DT.
Formerly of Boston. Mass.”
Mary’s breathing was nearly undetectable, practically deigning herself oxygen as shock took its grip; only consciously her mind began to accept the inevitable that her dear boy was no more. A few tears fell on the letter amid Fred’s closing. She could not divert her eyes from the document that so sadly proclaimed the death of her son. Strangely a sense of calm flowed through her, as a few minutes pasted, then Mary’s sleeve whipped the dampness away and delicately slid the letter back into its cover. Rising to her feet Mary glided into her bedroom, and upon reaching her dresser she pulled the upper drawer that contained a small-decorated box she had maintained since childhood, and within it placed the letter with the others received from her boy, along with other cherished life’s mementos contained there. She had not seen much of her son the past several years, now, never to lay eyes on him again. The drawer closed shut, as she stood motionless a few seconds; then opening her eyes, tears flowing again, Mary turned towards her bed, and collapsed there inconsolably.
Fred Mixer had spared Harvey’s mother the horrid details. “Shot through the body” was most likely the truth, but hardly could describe the condition when his mutilated body was found among the human carnage on the snow-covered Bozeman Trail. Fred had held back painfully sensitive news that most of the bodies recovered after the fight could not be identified. Clean bed sheets issued from the quartermaster stores where used to cover the remains, and body parts collected by the burial detail that were laid to rest on Christmas Day in the post cemetery. Even Fred had not been witness to the inhumanity as the information transmitted in his letter to Mary Joy, were facts obtained by those who handled the frozen bodies along with their bits and pieces. He had not known the immediate fear all in the little garrison on the Big Piney had faced, thinking the Indians would surely finish them off in their depleted and vulnerable state.
The Army now sent troops to relieve the tiny garrison, troops that had been requested from the start. Soon, fact-finding, analysis, and eventual blame for this debacle would be determined. The efforts to gain knowledge as to the whys and the who’s would far outweigh the little that was done to prevent such a disaster in the first place. Months would turn into years without really knowing what truly happened in Dakota Territory, now it became printed news and finally the public learned a bit more about the dangers relative few were facing in the territories beyond the States. How sadly it always comes to this.
What happened on the Bozeman that held any significance to a family in Ellsworth, Maine, was the death of a loved one. Mary Deming Joy had lost a son. So many had died in the Country during the Civil War, and with the bloodletting over, fatefully Mary was now counted among the victims, along with countless others who had suffered loss. Sadly, human destruction never really ends as the reaping relentlessly continues its never ending campaign in minuscule or in over abundant portions.
Harvey S. Deming and Fred W. Mixer had enlisted in Boston on May 17, 1866, joining the 2nd United States Cavalry. Harvey was 19 when joining the cavalry, and would not see his 20th birthday, dying with 80 other soldiers near Fort Phil Kearny, DT, in what has become known as the Fetterman Massacre, which occurred on December 21, 1866. During his short career with the 2nd Cavalry, Harvey penned three fabulous letters home to his mother, which I will share in the future, as I put some flesh on the bones of this story. I don’t know how Mary reacted to her son’s death, but certainly in a poignant scene similar if not too far from this account. The photo of the two pals to the left are not either of the subjects discussed herein, but simply a representation of the look of two friends of the period.
Articles of our collection by Jim Mountain
Copyright: No copy, or parts of, or the entire article are allowed for your own publication without the permission of the author.
- A Brief History of Henry B. Carrington and the Re-uniting of His Presentation Sword and Revolver.