Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beecher Island: Part Four...

Let’s see now, where were we? Oh yeah, the last time we talked, Lieutenant Forsyth and his fifty-one scouts had barricaded themselves on a small sand bar (Beecher Island) in the middle of the Republican River. They had survived the initial attack with only two casualties. Second in command, Lt. Beecher and civilian scout, George W. Culver had both been killed. Lt. Forsyth had been shot in the leg, and acting surgeon, Dr. JH Moores had been shot in the head, but for some reason or another, was still alive. They were now bracing themselves for an all out assault on their position from a band of approximately 300 Indian warriors led by the well known, Cheyenne Warrior, Roman Nose.

Because of the way the ravine Roman Nose had decided to attack from was situated, the men could hear the Indians coming before they ever saw them. Forsyth shouted out a few last minute orders. He told them this was it, there was no more time to prepare. He directed them to look out for one another, to hold their fire until the Indians reached the edge of the river, and to make every shot count. It probably wasn’t politically correct, but he also told them he’d personally kill any man who tried to desert his post.

The attack was classic, Roman Nose. There he was, fearless, and like always, front and center. But because of the narrow ravine he had chosen to attack from he and his men had become easy targets for Forsyth and his men.

As they emerged, the Indians were only two or three abreast and with the new Spencer Seven-Shooter, one after another fell. The attacks came wave after wave and the results were all pretty much the same. Every Indian who came within range was met with another, deadly accurate bullet.

Roman Nose called off the attack long enough to regroup. It was decided they’d break up into several smaller groups and try to surround the men on the sand bar. Who knows, maybe if they’d tried this tactic from the beginning, things would have turned out different.

Roman Nose led his group from the top of a hill just west of Forsyth’s position. By now he was full of rage. He was driven by his hatred of the white man and had become frustrated by his inability to slaughter this small group of men. Maybe he had become careless by making himself such an easy target. But this would be Roman Nose’s last fight.

As he reached the river’s edge, Roman Nose was met with a fatal shot. He struggled to stay on his horse for a while. But finally, death overtook him and he fell where he was. His death had an immediate, demoralizing effect on the warriors and the attack was called off.

Because of a good, last minute plan, and superior fire power, Forsyth and his men had won the battle against what seemed like impossible odds.

But it wasn’t over. The battle had now become a siege. The Indians decided if they couldn’t beat the white men in this battle, they’d keep them pinned down on their sand bar and simply starve them to death. And so it began.

Once it became clear the battle was over Forsyth and his men slowly crawled out of their holes in the sand to take stock of themselves and of each other. They had lost two more men in the battle. Civilian Scouts, William Nelson and Lewis Farley had both been killed. When they went to check on the surgeon, DH Moorse, they discovered he had also died of the gun shot wound to the head he had suffered earlier in the day. On top of all that, there were 18 more men wounded, some of them critically.

All the food and medical supplies the men had were loaded on the four pack-mules they brought with them. All four mules had been killed and were laying some hundred yards to the north of their position. They might as well have been on the moon. There was no way the Indians were going to allow the men to retrieve any of their supplies. They tended to the wounded as best as they could and tried not to think about having no food.

As night fell, they buried their dead on the battlefield and Forsyth explained their situation to his men. He told them it looked like the Indians intended to starve them out and asked for volunteers to break through the Indian‘s lines and head some sixty miles away to Fort Wallace for help. Four men stepped forward.

Kevin McGinty

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