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The Diaries of John Gregory Bourke Volume 3

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John Gregory Bourke kept a monumental set of diaries beginning as a young cavalry lieutenant in Arizona in 1872, and ending the evening before his death in 1896. As aide-de-camp to Brigadier General George Crook, he had an insider's view of the early Apache campaigns, the Great Sioux War, the Cheyenne Outbreak, and the Geronimo War. Bourke's writings reveal much about military life on the western frontier, but he also was a noted ethnologist, writing extensive descriptions of American Indian civilization and illustrating his diaries with sketches and photographs. Previously, researchers could consult only a small part of Bourke's diary material in various publications, or else take a research trip to the archive and microfilm housed at West Point. Now, for the first time, the 124 manuscript volumes of the Bourke diaries are being compiled, edited, and annotated by Charles M. Robinson III to be easily accessible to the modern researcher. Volume 3 begins in 1878 with a discussion of the Bannock Uprising and a retrospective on Crazy Horse, whose death Bourke called "an event of such importance, and with its attendant circumstances pregnant with so much of good or evil for the settlement between the Union Pacific Rail Road and the Yellowstone River." Three other key events during this period were the Cheyenne Outbreak of 1878-79, the Ponca Affair, and the White River Ute Uprising, the latter two in 1879. The mistreatment of the Poncas infuriated Bourke: when recording the initial meeting between Crook and the Poncas, he wrote: "This conference is inserted verbatim merely to show the cruel and senseless ways in which the Government of the United States deals with the Indian tribes who confide in its justice or trust themselves to its mercy." Bourke's diary covers his time not only on the Plains and Midwest, but also digresses to his time as a young junior officer, fresh out of West Point, and experiencing his first introduction to the Southwest. He comments on issues in the military during his day, such as the quirks and foibles of the Irish soldiers who made up a large part of the frontier army, and also on the problems of Johnson Whittaker, who became West Point's only black cadet following the graduation of Henry Flipper in 1878. Extensively annotated and with a biographical appendix on Indians, civilians, and military personnel named in the diaries, this book will appeal to western and military historians, students of American Indian life and culture, and to anyone interested in the development of the American West.

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2. The Bannock Uprising


Chapter 2

The Bannock Uprising


ompared to the other outbreaks of the 1870s, the Bannock

Uprising was a small affair, caused by the usual problems of expanding white settlement and the government’s inability to adequately plan and implement an Indian policy. Although the

Bannocks were friendly, and some of their warriors had scouted for

Crook in 1876, grievances had been building for several years. The

Bannocks and Shoshones shared a reservation in Idaho, centered around agencies at Fort Hall1 and Ross Fork. Here they continued to hunt, as well as harvest the quamash camas (camassia quamash), a bulb that was a staple of their diet. Encroaching white settlement, however, depleted the game, and settlers’ hogs began eating the camas bulbs. As was so often the case, government rations were inadequate and poorly distributed. Facing famine, the Bannocks grew restless, and the army put them under surveillance. Random violence broke out in the summer of 1877.2

1. This refers to the second Idaho post designated Fort Hall. The first Fort Hall was established in 1849 and abandoned less than a year later because of a shortage of forage.


3. Retrospective on the Sioux War and Crazy Horse


Chapter 3

Retrospective on the

Sioux War and Crazy Horse

[August 1, 1878]1 he death of the renowned chief Crazy Horse was an event of such importance, and with its attendant circumstances pregnant with so much of good or evil for the settlement between the Union Pacific Rail Road and the Yellowstone River that I do not feel that it would be proper for me to pass it over with the condensed account given in my notes of July and August last year.

At that time, altho’ I appreciated fully the future value of an exact and truthful narration of this event and accordingly kept an eye upon all notes, memoranda, telegrams and reports, official or semi-official, bearing upon the state of affairs at Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Agencies (Nebraska,) prior to and terminating in the death of this truly great warrior and statesman, the back-bone of Dakota hostility to the white man and the white man’s government yet I was so pressed for leisure,—being obliged to travel with General Crook to Camp

Brown, Wyoming, and other places, on account of the Nez Percé war which was then at its height, that I was obliged to postpone to some more eligible occasion the completion of a task which should have been performed during our stay at Red Cloud Agency.


4. The Death of Crazy Horse


Chapter 4

The Death of Crazy Horse

Bourke’s retrospective continues. hen, finally, after many days of waiting, it was announced at Red Cloud Agency that Ta-Sunca-Uit-Co, Crazy Horse was on his way in to surrender it was understood at once that our campaigning days in the Department of the Platte were over and that the Sioux problem, as a problem, was solved. No further resistance was to be expected from a coalition of the bands of this great nation; the leader, who could organize such a coalition and hold its elements together by the force of his intellect and will, was about to bury the hatchet.

Sitting Bull,1 who has gained such a reputation from the jottings of journalists, has not and never has had the influence possessed by

Crazy Horse.

He is without power among the Southern Dakotas whose reservations have always been magazines of men and material for Crazy


Any trouble which Sitting Bull may make will be that which any other ill-disposed Indian demagogue may make; trouble demanding prompt and energetic measures for its suppression, but not taxing


5. The Developing Frontier


Chapter 5

The Developing Frontier1


ith no military campaigns, Bourke’s routine duties took him not only through the Department of the Platte, but elsewhere in the West as well. He writes virtually nothing of this in On the Border With Crook, or his other published works, yet his observations published here and in Chapter 6 allow us to see how rapidly the West was developing even as mop-up operations continued against various Indian bands.

In Chapter 6, he is impressed with the rapid growth of Denver, at this time less than two decades old, but already a large, cosmopolitan city, whose markets, he notes, “are equalled by but few places in the world. . . . I should say it was far ahead of Omaha in all that concerns a city’s comfort & welfare.”2

1. Manuscript volume 25 begins at this point. Although it is listed at West Point as running from August 19 to September 9, 1878, it actually includes material on the Ponca

Indians and their legal case against the federal government, in the spring of 1879. The record of Crook’s conference with the Ponca leaders appears to have been written at the time, and supplemented later by newspaper clippings, one notation being made as late as December


6. Sojourn in the Mountains and a Visit to Denver


Chapter 6

Sojourn in the Mountains and a Visit to Denver


hursday, August 29th. Bade farewell to our good friends, the

Stantons and started at 6 in the morning for Salt Lake, to take the train for the East. On the cars, fell into conversation with a gentleman from Arizona; his description of the overt progress made in that Territory amazed me greatly. He showed me a mining map [marking] the locations of the various ledges, mills &c. in what are known as the “Globe”, [“]Mineral” and “Pinal” districts.

I scouted all over that region in 1870-1-2-3, when it was the chosen haunt of the Apaches, who defied every effort of our Government to subdue them until General Crook was sent to take the field against them. How well his work was done, it is not necessary here to say, but for his important services, Crook was made Brigadier General in response to the demands of the whole Pacific Coast. It was with great interest that I listened to the account of the progress of a Territory which in my day was such a wild and hostile region.






he Cheyenne Outbreak and the Ponca Affair involved northern tribes that had been transported to the Indian Territory.

The Northern Cheyennes who surrendered to Crook as the

Great Sioux War drew to a close, were relocated to congregate them with their Southern Cheyenne cousins, who already were established in the Territory. The Poncas were victims of a bureaucratic error in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, in which their lands on the Missouri River were ceded to the Lakotas as part of the Great

Sioux Reservation. At the close of the Great Sioux War, the government decided to concentrate the Lakotas on those lands for ease of management. The Poncas, who never in history had opposed the government, then were removed to the Territory. In the cases of both the Cheyennes and the Poncas, the trauma of the move, the sudden change in climate, and the neglect of the government all contributed to suffering and death.1

1. The records of the Cheyenne Outbreak are found in RG 393. Special File. Military


7. Cheyenne Life


Chapter 7

Cheyenne Life


his chapter almost could have been called “The General and the President’s Son,” because Webb C. Hayes, son of President Rutherford B. Hayes, accompanied Crook and Bourke on an expedition to the West. At Sidney Barracks, Nebraska, 1 however, Crook conferred with a group of Cheyennes about the

Outbreak from the Indian Territory, and Cheyennes then became the focal point of Bourke’s writing. The Indians were particularly pleased that Webb attended the meeting, because, as the son of the

Great Father, he could give President Hayes a first-hand account of their grievances. He very likely did, because the president was genuinely concerned about Indian welfare, and was more prone than his immediate predecessors to standing up against special interest groups that so often harmed the Indians.2

It is obvious that Bourke knew less of Crook’s personal life than he might have believed. The general tended to keep his private relations separate from his official ones, and the Hayes family was


8. Hunting the Refugees


Chapter 8

Hunting the Refugees


ept. 26. Thus far no news of any kind concerning the Cheyenne refugees: Major Thornburgh has had scouts sent out along the

South Platte river, to the South and East of Sidney, to watch for the first intimations of their presence. Day before yesterday,

Dr. Munn told me a story he had heard from one of the cattle men employed on the ranch of the Bosler Bros. This was to the effect that on the night of the 21st, or 22d instant, a dark, but starlit night, two men of that ranch who were out hunting for stray cattle, came suddenly upon seven figures, closely wrapped, mounted on Indian ponies and moving in single file at a rapid gait, (jog-trot.) towards the North. The cattle men at first halloed at them, but the only effect produced was to make the Indians, if such they were, go faster. The cattle men then becoming alarmed, hid themselves in the hills until dawn when they took up the trail of the mysterious travellers and followed it until they came to where a beef had been slaughtered, in the way peculiar to Indians.1 At first I was not inclined to put much credence in the story, and besides was afraid that anything


9. Misery on the Trail


Chapter 9

Misery on the Trail


ctober 7th. Awakened at a very early hour: night had been very cold. Tried to make ourselves a cup of coffee or tea with a fire of cow-chips, but the attempt was not a success.

Lt. Bowman and Lt. Palmer had quietly monopolized the fire which

Major Thornburgh and I had made with so much difficulty and crowded us out. When I came back with my arms filled with dried cow-chips, I piled them on the fire and in so doing inadvertently

filled up Bowman’s cup on which he was trying to boil tea. When he came to taste the noisome mixture of tepid water, sage brush, weeds, grass, mud and cow-chips, Bowman, who is something of an epicure, expressed his opinion of the production in very decided and emphatic language. We didn’t have much of a breakfast, but we did have a good laugh. Captain Mathey did not get into camp until late last night. He had moved down to the Platte and then over to the mouth of Blue Water. Before leaving the Platte, he sent a detachment of his company to look up his wagon—this was without orders from the Expedition Commander and without his knowledge,—a very unsoldierly proceeding. In coming up the Blue Water to rejoin us, his Co. had great trouble in crossing miry places; one (or two) of the horses was nearly drowned.


10. The Ponca Affair


Chapter 10

The Ponca Affair


arch 11th 1879. Lieutenant-General P. H. Sheridan, with

Generals G. A. Forsyth, A.D.C. and Captain [James Fingal]

Gregory, Engineer Officer of his Staff, and Brigadier General

Crook and the writer, left Omaha, Neb., for a visit to the posts of

Forts Robinson and Sheridan. The journey by rail, over the Union

Pacific Rail Road, as far as Sidney, Neb., was accomplished in the usual time and without special incident. At Sidney, all the officers of the garrison had assembled to pay their respects to the Division and Department Commanders. From that point we proceeded by stage to Fort Robinson. Our vehicle was new, our horses fresh, driver experienced, careful and quick and our party very congenial and good-humored. We laid over for the night at Elliott’s Ranch, and the next day reached Robinson about noon. Colonel Van Vliet, the Post Commander and his subordinates, did everything in their power to make us comfortable. Mr. Paddock, the post-trader, took charge of me, and with the assistance of his amiable wife, made my stay most agreeable.






fter a retrospective on Irish officers and their often humorous quirks, Bourke spends much of this section on the rapid development of what, only a decade earlier, was raw frontier.

Homesteaders were pouring into the area, willing to endure privation in order to be their own masters. Visiting one family of settlers, living in squalor in a sod hut and maintaining a subsistence farm, Bourke believed their shabbiness was more than offset by their determination to succeed. “It is of such stuff that good commonwealths are made and, no doubt, in another quarter of a century, this family will be comfortable, prosperous and well-placed,” he commented.1

In contrast to the Eastern and Midwestern farmers, who were doing the best they could and determined to do better, Bourke was appalled by the Spartan conditions of the local cattle ranches. The cowboys seemed to be satisfied with their scant accommodations, and had no inclination to improve them, an attitude he blamed on the influence of Texas, without giving any particular reason. Even so, he developed a grudging admiration for the hard, spare life of the cowboys, their overall good nature, and their generosity. “[A]fter all,” he decided, “our lives are only what we make them and . . . a


11. Of Irish Lords and Irish Soldiers


Chapter 11

Of Irish Lords and Irish Soldiers


his night, (June 20th) a Farewell Hop was given by the officers of Fort Omaha to Colonel [Edwin F.] Townsend and family. Colonel Townsend has just been promoted from the majority of the 9th to the Lieutenant-Colonelcy of the 11th Infantry, (Station, Fort Custer, Montana.)1 The affair was a decided and pleasing success, the attendance of young people from town being quite large, notwithstanding the bad weather!

The almost continuous rains which have fallen in the Missouri Valley, during the month just ending have been of incalculable benefit to the growing crops, but have made the atmosphere so murky and damp that a great deal of sickness prevails, mostly a mild type of chills and fever.

Yet Fort Omaha never looked more beautiful. It depends upon its natural advantages alone for its attractiveness; the buildings constructed, with exceptions to be named further on, are entirely of wood, and in a condition suggesting grave apprehensions of their durability and safety. But they look cosy and comfortable which is


12. “It Is of Such Stuff that Good Commonwealths Are Made”


Chapter 12

“It Is of Such Stuff that Good

Commonwealths Are Made”


uly 8th The members of our party were up about 4 o’clock.

Capt. Munson invited us all to breakfast at his house, as he was to command the escort & would have to get breakfast ready anyhow, and the other good people of the garrison would only have to arise at that unearthly hour to prepare it for our benefit.

Our preparations for the trip, thanks to Cap’t. Munson’s forethought and energy, were very complete: until late last night, he had been hard at work getting everything in shape and altho’ our party, all told, did not number more than twenty men, it was necessary, as we were to be absent for some days in an almost unknown country, to provide for every contingency. Fuel has to be carried for the whole distance. Grain for the animals, food for officers and men, tentage, bedding, ammunition and harness. We are to have two six mule army wagons, one light spring wagon, one ambulance, and the riding animals of the escort and guides.


13. Fort Craig to Camp Grant


Chapter 13

Fort Craig to Camp Grant


he newspapers contained accounts of the mortuary services of the Young Prince Imperial, at the chapel of Saint Mary,

Camden Place, Chiselhurst, England, July 18th. The pallbearers were the princes of the English Royal family.

Almost on same date came the news from South Africa that Lord

Chelmsford had with almost 5.000 men defeated the Zulus who had a force of 12.000. Sir Garnet Wolsely [sic] who had been sent out to relieve Chelmsford had not yet assumed command and consequently whatever credit was due for the affair belonged to Chelmsford.1

July 22d (?)2 General Wm. F. Barry, (Colonel 2d Artillery,) died.

About same date, a party of Government detectives had a fight with the outlaw, Middleton, on the Niobrara, in which two of the detectives and Middleton were wounded. July 31st Doc Middleton captured by a party of detectives and soldiers from Fort Hartsuff, Neb.

August 1st Lieut. W.S. Schuyler, A.D.C., returned from his trip to the Murchie Mine, Nevada County, California. This property belongs to General Crook and his friends and may be referred to more at length in these pages at a subsequent time.


14. Back to the Present


Chapter 14

Back to the Present


eneral Miles, Colonel 5th Infantry, has for the past month, had a strongly equipped expedition of nearly one thousand men, all mounted, on the British Boundary north of Milk river, Montana, to drive back any hostile Sioux from Sitting Bull’s

Camp who might make an invasion of our territory.

Beyond attacking a small hunting party which, after a short skirmish with Miles’ advance guard under Lieut. W. P. Clark, 2d Cavalry, fell back with rapidity across the line, the Expedition has been so fruitless, of results that I have made no effort to keep track of its operations. It will remain on the boundary during the remainder of the summer to patrol and observe.

August 12th [1879] Lieut. Genl. P. H. Sheridan, Brigadier General

George Crook and Colonel Jeff. C. Davis, 23d Infantry, appointed a Board to meet in Chicago for the purpose of settling questions in dispute as to the positions and movements of troops at the Battle of Chickamauga, Ga., Sept. 18, 19th & 20th 1863.1






he White River Ute uprising had its roots in the usual wellmeaning, but totally unrealistic policies of federal government. As Bourke noted, the public seemed to understand the problem. “Very generally, the Indian Bureau was blamed and not a few expressed the hope that the Indian Agent might be killed, thinking that his inefficiency or rascality had brought about the revolt,” he wrote on the train from Omaha to Fort Fred Steele, Wyoming, on his way to the scene.1

The public assessment of the agent, Nathan C. Meeker, also was correct. Meeker was, in the words of one who knew him, “strictly honest, but utterly impractical and visionary and without any ability to manage Indians or whites.”2

The problem was aggravated by the incursion of prospectors into the Ute country. One newspaper commented, “When the miners began filling the Middle and North Park last summer, the Ute heart suddenly became filled with badness.”3

1. Bourke, Diary, 31:252–53.

2. Ibid., 31:253. The official records of the White River Ute Uprising are found in RG


15. Merritt’s Ride


Chapter 15

Merritt’s Ride


eptember 30th Lieut. Schuyler, A.D.C., and his friend, Mr. Peyton, of New York, started on a hunt in the Rocky Mountains, north of the Union Pacific R.R. and West of Cheyenne.

My own preparations were made at same time, and orders received, to proceed to join the command of Major T. T. Thornburgh,

4th Infantry, then marching to the Agency of the White River Utes, to assist the Agent, who reported that he was in need of military force to quell the turbulent and unruly Indians on his Reservation.

October 1st. I was awakened this morning by Giney, our man, and Reynolds, the orderly, rushing in to my bed-room with the astounding information that Major Thornburgh had been killed, his command cut up and surrounded by the Utes and threatened with complete destruction. My first impulse was to treat the story as one of the canards which spring up in garrisons, no one knows from what source; but a second thought impelled me to hurry my dressing and get down to Dep’t. Hd. Qrs. without delay. In its worst form, I found the first vague rumor confirmed. The first dispatches reached General Williams about 3½ o’clock in the morning. Within


16. Camp Under Fire


Chapter 16

Camp Under Fire


he remains of Major Thornburgh and men [were] buried this morning, rather roughly, however, as at this time, the sharp rattle of musketry from our picket stations announced the approach of the enemy; positions were taken up without the loss of a moment, the long line of Infantry and dismounted cavalry commanding all the hills overlooking camp, producing a beautiful effect.

Being dismounted, I accompanied Col. Sumner’s command, climbing up one of the steepest acclivities and posting myself with Ferris’ and

Quinn’s men in a field of sage-brush. For a little while, the enemy was quite bold, coming up well within range and showing a disposition to make a determined fight. Fifteen of their warriors, mounted, had penetrated within less than 150 yards of where we were but as their presence was concealed by a couple of deep ravines they succeeded in escaping before we could fire a shot.

The Infantry rifles proved to be too powerful for the Utes who fell back like snow before the sun. Seeing that the game was ended


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