Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beecher Island Part Five: The Conclusion...

You know, the more I learn about the Battle of Beecher Island, the more I want to talk about it. But I did promise to wrap it up this week and like they say, a deal’s a deal.

The rest of the story is a little sketchy. What I mean is that I’ve read several different versions of it by several different authors. So I’m just going to go with the version they inscribed on the monument in 1905. I figure if that’s the story they’re sticking to, it’s good enough for me.

Lieutenant, Forsyth knew if they were going to survive he’d have to send for help. On the first night, J.S. Stillwell and P. Trudeau escaped by crawling past the Indian’s lines on their hands and knees. Their assignment was to reach Fort Wallace, some 60 miles to the southeast any way they could and send help.

Because of all the Indians in the area, Stillwell and Trudeau were forced to travel by night and spend their days in hiding. On the 5th day, they flagged down a stagecoach and rode it the rest of the way to Fort Wallace.

On the third night, Forsyth sent two more men named, J. Donovan, and A.G. Pilley in the direction of Fort Donovan. They followed the south fork of the Republican River and eventually reached Fort Donovan, but because the soldiers were out in the field, the place was mostly deserted. They were able to round up four men and immediately headed back toward Beecher Island. Finally, once they had gotten within about twenty miles from the island, they ran across Captain Louis H. Carpenter and his Company of about 60 “Buffalo Soldiers,” who were out on patrol. Captain Louis was a good friend of Forsyth’s from the Civil War, and as soon as the two scouts told him of their situation, Donovan and Pilley led them on a twenty mile, mad dash.

Meanwhile, back on the island, Forsyth and his men’s situation was getting desperate. The only food they had was the putrid, rotting meat of their dead horses. The injuries of the wounded had become infected and many of them were literally on the verge of dying. They had no way knowing whether the two teams they’d sent for help even got past the Indians, let alone whether or not they were coming back.

Finally, at 10:00 AM on the ninth day (September 26th, 1868) since their ordeal began, the men trapped on the island saw movement on the prairie. Within an hour they could see it was a Cavalry unit coming their way. The Indians were also watching this movement. They knew they had failed to starve the white men to death like they wanted and reluctantly decided to moved on.

Captain Louis and his Buffalo Soldiers fed the men who were able to eat and began trying to stabilize the wounded as best they could. One scout’s injuries were so severe, Captain Louis’ surgeon decided the only way to save the man’s life was to amputate his left leg.
You need understand just how brutal this must have been. It’s not like they had a clean, sterilized operating room to work in. It took place on a filthy sand bar in the middle of a river, surrounded by the stench of fifty dead and rotting horses that were laying everywhere. Somehow, civilian scout, Lewis Farley lived through the surgery but didn’t make it through the night. A few hours before sunrise on the morning of the 27th, he became the fifth and final casualty in the battle of Beecher Island.

About noon the next day, a full twenty-six hours after Captain Louis and his Buffalo Soldiers from Fort Donovan arrived, civilian scouts, Stillwell and Trudeau arrived with help from Fort Wallace in Kansas. To say they were relieved to find that help had already arrived would be an understatement. The rescue they had planned had turned into an evacuation and they loaded the weak and wounded into Government wagons for the two day trip back to Fort Wallace.

Today, one hundred-forty-one-years later, you can safely stand on the exact spot the island was. You can see the ravine, Roman Nose led his attacks from. And you can walk a mile long trail around the battle field. The first stop on this trail is the top of the hill, Roman Nose led his last charge from. It’s a very moving experience. Anyway, it was for me.

It was pointed out to me that this whole thing didn’t happen along the Republican River after all. So for a point of clarification, it took place on the Arickaree Fork of the Republican River. Hope that helps clear things up.

It’s also been suggested I provide references to back up my story. Fair enough. Just do like I did before I even took the trip. Google it.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story of Beecher Island and I hope one day you can make the trip to Wray Colorado to see it for yourself. I’m still looking for a historian out there who would like to take part in the online discussion at:


  1. I've written and read hundreds of research papers. I don't see anything in this to make me question your sources. It's quite straightforward with a clear conclusion: Every time weapons technology makes a leap forward, the game changes. And, of course, the best weapons are useless without brave, tired, hungry, scared-shitless soldiers fighting for each other.

    Excellent story, Kevin.

  2. Thanks, Fred. That means a lot.

    I loved the "scared-shitless" part. I can only imagine how scared they must have been...

  3. Thanks, Cat. Good to see you out and about again...