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1864 April 9: The Boys of Company F “achieved a bloodless but decisive victory over an unruly crowd which greatly outnumbered them”

April 12, 2014

The following letter from the 30th Wisconsin Infantry in Dakota Territory appeared in the April 9, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  The Winnebago Indians—also called Ho-Chunk—were removed to Dakota Territory along with the Dakota (Sioux) Indians.  Through the period of forced relocations, many tribe members returned to previous homes, especially in Wisconsin, despite the U. S. Army’s efforts to prevent that and their repeated roundups and removals.

T H E   I N D I A N   W A R.

Letter from Co. F, 30th.

March 6, 1864.

ED. JOURNAL :—Believing that both yourself, and readers, are interested in Co. F, I give you an account of an occurrence which took place at this post this morning, in which our Co. and Capt. MEACHAM [Edgar A. Meacham] were conspicuous actors.

The U. S. Indian Agent left here for Washington about three weeks since, leaving the Agency in charge of one of his employees.  The Winnebago Indians have become dissatisfied with the country and their treatment here, and for some time past have been slipping away from the Post, in small bands, by night.

They were well aware that if they permitted a knowledge of their plans to reach the authorities at the Post, efforts should be made to detain them, as it is the intention of Government to keep them here, after expending so large an amount of money in fitting up the Agency ;  consequently they have until recently, chose to leave quietly in the darkness of night.  But those who had already undertaken the experiment had been so successful in the accomplishment of their designs without being molested, that a large number concluded to try it, and do it too by daylight.  About half past eight o’clock this morning the acting U. S. Indian Agent and the U. S. Winnebago Interpreter waited upon the the commander of the Post, and informed him that the Indians had about 50 canoes launched and packed, and were about starting down the river.  And he, the acting agent, demanded the assistance of the military power to prevent their departure.  A squad of soldiers from Co. F. 30th, and Co. K, 6th, were immediately called out to render the required service.  But allow me to state here the reason that matters had progressed thus far, unknown to either the Indian Agent or military command, was because the Fort in which we are quartered  is not situated exactly on the bank of the river, but at a distance of perhaps one-fourth of a mile ;  the Indians being camped in the timber, between the Fort and the river.  Consequently they had been enabled to get their preparations well under way before acknowledgement of them reached the authorities.

But a very few moments elapsed after the assistance was demanded, before a squad of fourteen men, under charge of Sargent [sic] McCarthy,¹ and headed by Capt. M. marched from the Fort to the point where the Indians were about to embark. The Captain told them they would not be permitted to leave, and ordered them to remove their traps back to their lodges.  This they flatly refused to do.  He then told them that if they persisted, he should order the men to fire, and stop as many as they could with bullets.  This seemed to have no effect on them, and they professed themselves determined to go at all hazards.  Capt. M. then told them he had done talking, but his threats would be put in execution.  The Indians said he was very foolish for coming down there to stop them, they out numbered his men a great deal, were better armed, and could kill every one of the whites on the ground.  They professed not to fear death, and again stated that they could not be stopped by all the troops at the Agency.

The Missouri at this point is quite wide.  In the center of the river is an extensive sand bar, upon the further side of which the channel is situated, while upon this side of the bar is a kind of bayou about nighty feet in width.  To be able to get down the river with their canoes the Indians would be obliged to paddle around the head of this bar, cross the river, and go down on the further side.

Serg’t McCARTY was ordered to land his squad on the bar, across the bayou, and if the Indians refused to halt, to shoot as many as they could.  A messenger was sent to the Fort for a reinforcement, which reported promptly at the [spot?].²  Meantime, the Indians who were not expecting to leave, expressed their determination to assist their friends and went to their lodges and procured their guns, bows, and arrows.

About this time the prospect looked fair for some fun, and serious fun it might have proved too, if the Indians had not yielded.  They outnumbered us ten to one, were well armed, and no doubt could have done good execution.  But things were otherwise ordered, as you will see.

Meantime the canoes had pushed out, crossed the river, and commenced moving down stream.  But as they neared our squad, the command was given—HALT!  They at first only ceased paddling, but soon commenced backing water to hold the canoes against the current and then headed them ashore.  They were then ordered to take the canoes to the point of embarkation, and seeing the bayonet lowered to a charge, they concluded that direction was the better part of valor, and slowly obeyed the order.—On their arrival at the shore the men were ordered to disburse and leave the squaws to take care of the trumpery.—This order they also obeyed, after our boys had been brought to a charge bayonet and some of them had felt a little cold steel in the vicinity of the breached at.

As soon as the squaws had packed the effects back to the camp, and the work of reconstructing the lodges fairly commenced, the boys were ordered back to the Fort, having the satisfaction of feeling that they had achieved a bloodless but decisive victory over an unruly crowd which greatly outnumbered them.

*                    *                    *                    *

Before I close, allow me to mention a little affair which took place one side as the more important movements were in progress.

Two of the Winnebago ladies, (sometimes scandalously called squaws) taking offense at each other for some real or imaginary wrong, commenced an altercation which soon brought on blows.  One of the afore mentioned ladies had an infant, (commonly called pappoose [sic],) in her arms at the commencement of the dispute, but as it became more exciting, her antagonist rushed upon her, wrenched the child out of her arms, and threw it over the bank, a distance of ten or twelve feet.  The mother’s maternal anxiety was surpassed by her desires to resend the insult, and without looking for her child, which was picked up by some other lady, sadly bruised, (it has since died,) she fell to with a will, and soon whipped her enemy beautifully.

Yours truly,          MORE ANON

1.  Augustus E. McCarty, from Prescott, enlisted August 13, 1862. He was first promoted to corporal and then to sergeant. He mustered out with the company on September 20, 1865.
2.  The printing on this issue of the newspaper was not very good and this is out best guess as to what the word should be. The “ot” at the end is plain, it is just the first two letters that are hard to make much of.

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