Weekly Gem #290, A "thank you" may have been in order
Location: This hidden gem is located just north of Rosebud Creek, at the Rosebud Battlefield State Park, Montana (see the Clue Me! Map).
This is the third of three posts about the The Battle of the Rosebud. In Weekly Gem 288 we mentioned how General Crook and his 1000 soldiers were taken by surprise, but managed to recover, and 6 hours later declared victory. While Crook didn’t didn’t mention this detail in his official report of victory, his entire command may have been wiped out if not for his 262 Shoshone and Crow scouts. They later saved groups and individuals, even though Crook had told them they would not be asked to fight.
First and most important were the opening minutes of the battle. Crook had no idea he was about to be attacked. In fact, he thought he was preparing to attack the Sioux village that was reportedly nearby. He had stopped his soldiers to rest them and their horses. They were in the low ground, “out of sight.” The horses were unsaddled, picketed, and grazing in the lush grass along the Rosebud. The soldiers were making coffee, resting in small groups. Several officers were playing cards.
Crook’s Crow and Shoshone scouts headed to the north, thinking they might find some buffalo. What they found instead was about 1000 Sioux and Northern Cheyenne already charging, about a minute from being in the midst of the currently unarmed, and completely unsuspecting soldiers.
Outnumbered 5 to 1, the scouts turned and raced hell bent for leather back to the soldiers, firing over their soldiers as the Sioux and Cheyenne gave chase. The soldiers initially paid no mind, assuming the scouts had found buffalo. The Crow and Shoshone reached the soldiers, saw they were still mostly lounging about … then they immediately reversed course and attacked! This blunted the charge, then the Crow and Shoshone stood their ground, holding off the Sioux and Cheyenne for another 20 minutes until the soldiers were able to get their horses, weapons, organization and take action.
Although Crook didn’t mention his scouts in his after action report, one thing is clear. In about 10 seconds, a thousand attackers with repeating rifles, on horseback, would have been mixed in with Crook’s soldiers, who were on foot, scattered, many having no weapon in hand. Instead, his 262 scouts attacked against a thousand, continued to fight them off, and only withdrew when the soldiers had moved to the high ground.
As later described by Frank Grouard, a scout for the 3rd Cavalry: “… just then the Sioux came charging down over the hills. But the troops were not ready to meet the attack, so the Crows met the first charge …, and I believe if it had not been for the Crows, the Sioux would have killed half of our command before the soldiers were in a position to meet the attack.”
A ”thank you” may have been in order.
Later on, Crook divided his force into three. Crook with several companies in the center. Mills heading east to find the non-existent Sioux village. Royall heading west with four companies to push Sioux back from the flank. Royall’s group was soon a hair’s breadth from disaster.
The Sioux continually slipped back, a little at a time. Royall followed. Before long, his force of 200 was more than half a mile from Crook’s force and in danger of being surrounded by about 700 Sioux.
Crook ordered Royall to withdraw, but by this time that meant going down one hill into a ravine to mount their horses, and then up the next hill, under heavy fire the whole way.
As later described by Lt. Foster: “The platoon had gotten halfway to the bottom when the pursuing Indians reached the crest just abandoned and poured a scattering volley into the party. The order was given to take the charging gait and make for our own lines. This retrograde movement was made on foot … the enemy not only pressing us in front, but getting on our flanks. … The retreat was destined to be the scene of the fiercest encounter that has ever taken place between Indians and United States troops, the repeating rifles used by the Indians enabling them to make it one continuous volley. Officers who were through the Civil War say they never in their experience saw anything hotter.”
Among the wounded was Captain Henry, a bullet entering one cheek under the left eye and exiting under the right eye. Henry survived, and recalled: “I retained my saddle for a moment, then 'dismounted,' and lay on the ground.”
As the soldiers continued their “retrograde charge,” seemingly to their last stand, here came the Crow and Shoshone. Once again they attacked while badly outnumbered, one of them standing over Captain Henry firing his rifle. Once again they blunted the charge, and put down covering fire until Royall could get all of his men mounted and headed back up the hill to join Crook.
A ”thank you” may have been in order.
Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.
To the rescue!
Areas where Shoshone and Crow scouts saved the cavalry from the Sioux
Why It's Interesting
Crook brought on about 250 Crow and Shoshone scouts, telling them they wouldn't need to fight, just find the Sioux. As it turned out, had the scouts just done what they were hired to do, Crook and all his men would probably be in a cemetery at the Rosebud.