Let me tell ya folks, Cookie and me stumbled on a piece of history we just plum hadn’t heard of before. (The roll of Cookie was played by my parents when they came to visit and we hit the trail). We decided to enlighten y’all, so you can look smarter than us. We’ve heard of Fetterman, Crook, and of course who can forget Custer, but our ears never picked up on the name Brigadier General Patrick E. Connor.
Now General Connor was assigned to command the Powder River Expedition in present day Northeastern Wyoming. His orders were to make war on the Indians forcing them into submission to maintain peace. I know, sounds like same song second verse. But actually, Connor was one of the first commanders in the area so the snowball started with him.
August 29, 1865 (less than a year before Fort Phil Kearny was established), Brigadier General Patrick Connor with 125 cavalry and 90 Pawnee scouts attacked Chief Black Bear’s Arapaho camp along the Tongue River. Black Bear’s camp was comprised of 500 inhabitants, however many of the young warriors were farther North on a raid against the Crow.
Connor’s men made war on those Arapaho present disregarding the fact it was mainly women and children. Captain Palmer reported, “Unfortunately for the women and children, our men had no time to direct their aim; bullets from both sides and murderous arrows filled the air; squaws and children, as well as warriors, fell among the dead and wounded.”
The warriors present made a stand providing their families the opportunity to escape. The Arapaho fled up Wolf Creek. Connor followed with a contingent of soldiers. He was driven back. The majority of his men stayed behind destroying the village including tipis, food and winter supplies. This gave the Arapahos time to launch and aggressive counter-attack, driving Connor down the Tongue River.
Only the use of howitzers held the Arapahos at a distance during the withdrawal, and saved the out-numbered soldiers. The Arapaho suffered 64 casualties and several hundred ponies. It is believed this engagement caused the Arapaho, a non-hostile people previous to the attack, to attack the Sawyer Expedition two days later.
Where the Bozeman Trail crossed the Tongue River Valley, Colonel J.A. Sawyer’s wagon train and road building expedition of 82 wagons fought the Arapaho for thirteen days. Captain Cole of the military escort was killed along with E.G. Merrill and James Dilleland, drovers. The siege ended when Connor’s army rescued the wagon train.
Instead of “subduing” the Arapaho, Connor’s attack is believed to have been influential in causing the Arapaho to ally with the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Fetterman Fight the next year, and to fight at the Rosebud and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Were any lessons learned from the Connor Battle…Nope. Sorry to say folks, but the soldiers moving into the area kept underestimating the American Indians and paying a high price until numbers in people moving West and superior weapons did what armies never could.
SHERIDAN COUNTY HERITAGE BOOK. Sheridan County Extension Homemakers Council. 1983.