Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beecher Island: Part Two...

Let’s see now, where were we? Oh yeah, we were talking about a battle site in northeastern Colorado called Beecher Island I visited a while back.

We talked about Lieutenant Forsyth leading a group of fifty-one men in search of a band renegade Indians. Forsyth and his men had caught up the Indians they had been pursuing on the afternoon of September 17th, 1868 just west of Fort Wallace, which was located in the westernmost part of the Kansas territory. In order to rest his men, Forsyth ordered them to make camp in a small valley along the Republican River early that evening, and Forsyth and his second in command, Lieutenant Fredrick H. Beecher had retreated to their tent to plan their next move and to await their date with destiny.

Alright then, today we’re going to talk about one of the main players they were going up against, Cheyenne Chief, Roman Nose.

First off, the white’s had his name wrong. He was given the Indian name by his people, Woqini, (Arched Nose or Hooked Nose.) It was the white’s who interpreted it as Roman Nose. Anyway, the name stuck. He was a giant of a man, he stood well over six feet tall, and was an imposing figure on the battlefield who literally struck fear into the hearts of his enemies with his straight, in your face style of battle. He conducted himself in battle to such a high degree that the Generals in the U.S. military considered him the Chief of the entire Cheyenne nation.

Contrary to popular belief, Roman Nose never was a Chief, a dog soldier, or the leader of any of the Cheyenne military societies. He was however, known to all as one of the greatest Cheyenne warriors to ever live and the greatest leader during any and all combat situations.

Roman Nose was driven by his hatred of the white man, and the U.S. Government in particular for breaking the treaties they had signed with his people in the mid-1860’s. Following the Sand Creek Massacre on November 29th, 1864 where some four hundred Indians, mostly older men, women, and children were brutally slaughtered by a group of renegade, U.S. soldiers led by Colonel John Chivington, Roman Nose began his retaliatory attacks against any white settlements he came across along the Platte valley of southwestern Nebraska, western Kansas, and eastern Colorado. Native American author and physician, Charles Eastman, once wrote of Roman Nose, “Perhaps no other warrior attacked more emigrants along the Oregon Trail between 1864 and 1868.”

Some spoke of him as being arrogant and flamboyant. Other’s described him as simply brutal in nature. In April, 1867 General Winfield Hancock sent word to the Cheyenne that he wanted to talk. They sent Roman Nose to Fort Larned to conduct the talks with the white General. Roman Nose arrived at this meeting wearing the uniform of a General in the U.S. military. He had a Spencer carbine rifle hanging from his saddle, four Navy revolvers stuck in his belt, a knife strapped to both of his legs, and a bow, already strung with arrows in his left hand. He started the talks with a simple demand, “talk.” The General knew right then, Roman Nose wouldn’t be intimidated and it didn’t matter to him one way or the other whether they talked or they fought.

Meanwhile, back at their campsite along the Republican River, Lieutenant Forsyth was well aware of the stories surrounding, Roman Nose. He was also aware of the fact that, Roman Nose was among the War Party they were planning to engage in the morning.

About an hour after they had eaten, Forsyth gathered his men to inform them of their situation. The forward scouts had just returned and reported seeing as many as 150 Indian warriors camped in a ravine about a half a mile west of their position. He explained to them they were probably going to be outnumbered by at least three to one. With that in mind his plan was to catch them off guard while they were still sleeping. He told his men to have their horses saddled and to be ready to head out by 4:00 the next morning. He told them to make sure their guns were in good working order and to get as much rest as they could.

He rode out to visit with the sentries he had posted along the hills surrounding their camp to make sure they understood what their job was. He instructed each man to fire a single shot if he saw or heard any kind of movement. He stressed that he only wanted the shot to come from the direction of that movement. In case of a surprise attack, he wanted to be able to tell exactly where it was coming from. He reminded them that the lives of every single member of their party depended on them, and one by one, he asked each of them if they were still up to it. He reminded them they had all volunteered for this job but told them if they wanted to back out he would understand and wouldn’t think any less of them because of it. Every one of them had their own reasons but they all agreed to stay and fight.

As Forsyth rode back to camp he thought of the battle that lay ahead. He thought of other battles he‘d been involved in over the years. He had been outnumbered before and had always been able to prevail. He was sure he had chosen good men who be counted on and they were very well armed. Still, he had a bad feeling about this one.

Kevin McGinty

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