I know, let’s talk politics today. Ah, just kidding. Actually, I’ve got a really cool story to tell about a road-trip I took a couple weeks ago.
Those of you who read this column on a regular basis know I’m somewhat interested in history, especially the mid-1800’s. It was a time of great change in our country. But it was also a time of great danger.
This is a story about a place I visited in the far, north-eastern corner of Colorado called “Beecher Island,” and in order to do the story any kind of justice at all, I’m probably going to have to spread it out over the next two or three weeks. Maybe four. Besides, I’m sure by now, some of you have grown tired of me going on and on about Obama and his liberal friends anyway. How about it, you ready to take a step back in time?
Beecher Island is the site of one of the fiercest battles between the Plains Indians and elements of the 7th Cavalry during the time America was expanding westward. And just for the record, I’m not telling this story to take sides between the whites and the Indians either. I’m just telling the story.
It was the summer of 1868. General, Phillip Sheridan was becoming frustrated by his 7th Cavalry’s inability to stop the ongoing, brutal attacks against white settlers by the Indian tribes of the western plains. He decided the best way to combat this problem was to form smaller, well-equipped (I’ll get to the well-equipped part in another column) detachments of civilian volunteers to pursue and punish these tribes whenever and wherever they found them. He reasoned it would be easier for a smaller detachment on horses to move around than it would be for an entire Cavalry unit. In August of 1868, he appointed Lieutenant, George Forsyth to head up just such a detachment.
Lieutenant, Forsyth was stationed at Fort Hays at the time. He put the word out and before long he had signed up fifty-one men willing to join him in this fight. Many of the men who volunteered had been victims of earlier Indian attacks themselves. Some had lost loved one’s or good friends and were looking for revenge. In just a short time they were ready and headed west along the trade routes looking for signs of any marauding Indians they could find.
Forsyth and his men reached Fort Wallace late in the afternoon of September, 14th. The Governor of Colorado had sent word to the commander of the fort that there had been another brutal attack in eastern Colorado. Seventy-nine men, women, and children had been slaughtered over the course of the last few days and they were looking for any kind of help they could get.
The group of volunteers from Fort Hays were on their way early the next morning. It wasn’t long before Forsyth’s scouts picked up what seemed to be fresh tracks of a huge band of Indians. They followed the tracks late into the evening.
They got an early start the next morning, Sept.16th, and by that afternoon they had caught a glimpse or two of the Indians they had been pursuing. Because of the distance and the rugged landscape of the prairie, Forsyth and his men couldn’t tell exactly how many Indians they preparing to go up against. But he did know, he and his men were woefully outnumbered. He also knew the Indians were well aware of the fact they were being followed, so the element of surprise he had hoped for was gone.
He needed time to plan his next move. And he knew his men needed to rest, so he ordered them to make camp where they were. He gave them extra provisions that evening. He figured they were camped in a good spot. They were in a small valley just a few hundred yards north of the Republican River. There were hills to the north and south of their position. He posted extra men on top of these hills to guard against a surprise attack.
Under a bright, moon lit sky that night, the men ate till they were full for a change. Afterwards, they broke up into small groups. Some of them talked nervously about the battle that was sure to come in the morning. Some of them used the time to clean their guns and check their ammunition supplies. Who knows, some of them probably even said a prayer or two.
Lieutenant, Forsyth and his second in command, Lieutenant, Frederick H. Beecher retreated to their tent to make their plans. And I’d be willing to bet that they too might have said a silent prayer themselves. For tomorrow they’d more than likely meet their destiny.
Okay, maybe I’ve got some of the details wrong here. Maybe not. But if you’d like to join in on the conversation, stop by the blog this week at: www.rm235.blogspot.com