Fetterman Fight Happened 155 Years Ago This Month

The Fetterman Monument

The Fetterman Fight was one of the bloodiest battles waged between the Native American’s and the US Army in Wyoming. It happened 155 years ago on Dec. 21, and it happened near Story.

Red Cloud’s War was a conflict between an alliance of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, the Northern Arapaho, and the United States. The war was fought over control of the western Powder River Country, and in protest of the gold seeker trail being built to Montana. This grassland, rich in buffalo, was under control of the Lakota, and their leader, Red Cloud.

Fort Phil Kearney, near Story, was one of the forts, along with Fort Reno near Kaycee, and Fort C. F. Smith, in Montana, that were built along the Bozeman Trail to protect Montana gold seekers from the Sioux Indians. The Sioux were not impressed.

In the Wyoming Industrial Journal, Shoshoni, Wyoming, December 1909, there is this article about Red Cloud. Red Cloud was an Oglala Sioux, which branch of the Sioux nation lived on the buffalo ranges west of the Black Hills. Prior to 1866 they had not joined the other Sioux in making war on the white settlers, but about that year Red Cloud became prominent with ten other subchiefs and was recognized by Gen. Harney as the leading chief of the Oglalas.

Under Colonel Sawyer in 1865 the government attempted to build wagon road by way of Powder River valley to the gold mines in Montana and Idaho. This road ran through some of the richest buffalo ranges left to the Sioux Indians. In the fall of 1865 Commissioners attempted to meet with the Indians and secure their consent to the building of the road. Red Cloud was the only chief who refused to attend the council. At Ft. Laramie in June, 1866, he attended council and there mildly but firmly told the commissioners that the last hope of subsistence of the Oglalas lay in preserving the buffalo, and under no consideration would they consent to the opening of the road through the Powder River country. While he was speaking General Carrington arrived with strong force of soldiers. “Why do these soldiers come?” asked Red Cloud. “To build forts and open Montana,” was the reply.

There were several attacks from the Sioux, such as this exert from the article mentioned above, ….Colonel Sawyer and party of surveyors began the construction of the road under an escort of twenty-five men from the Dakota cavalry. Red Cloud met them near the Black Hills and protested against them entering the buffalo country. Colonel Sawyer did not heed the protest; then Red Cloud gathered a large body of Oglalas and Cheyennes and held the surveying party in siege for fifteen days. One soldier was killed during the attack.

But, despite the Red Cloud’s efforts, the trail and the forts were built. But Red Cloud’s warriors didn’t stop his attacks on the army.

On Dec. 21 of 1866, 81 men went out from Fort Phil Kearney with a wood train to bring in wood, and were attacked by a large force of Indians operating with a well-laid plan.

An article in the Cheyenne Weekly Leader on August 24, 1876, they quoted a previous article from July 15 which, ….. published a full and graphic account of the Kearney massacre, from which we quote: “On the day of the massacre the Indians had attacked the wood train. The assaulting force was not apparently larger than 30 or 40 warriors. These were driven off by the troops, and Capt. Fetterman after routing them followed the fleeing Sioux over the bluffs and out of sight of the post. This was what the Indians expected and desired. They seemed to retreat before Fetterman, and that officer, suspecting nothing of the trap the that been set for him and his troops, pressed them to a point where the savages were able to hold him. Once in the neighborhood of Indian Hill they rushed in between him and the fort. He saw the plan for the first time. His men, who numbered nearly ninety then, found their chances of escape few. Fetterman tried to force a passage through the Indians, who numbered about 3,000, back over the bluffs, to the post, but found it impossible. The doomed men found their ammunition giving out. All hope was gone. They gathered around their commander and fought to kill, not to survive. The Indians waited until every ounce of lead and powder was expended. Then, seeing their white foe virtually disarmed, they rushed in and butchered, the brave fellows who remained.

And this one in the The Wyoming Press, Evanson, Wyoming February 10, 1900, when the congress was approached about putting up a monument to Fetterman’s men. The rest of the article appears below.

On Dec. 21,1866, Fort Phil Kearney, commanded by Col. Henry Carrlngton, was the extreme outpost of the government In the Bighorn Mountain region of the west. The post was 200 miles from telegraph lines and in an isolated position. Large bodies of Sioux Indians had been hovering In the vicinity of the post for some time. Dec. 21 the Indians made an attack upon the wood train a few miles north of the fort. A detachment of troops under Lieut. Col. Fetterman including two officers and 78 men, and a number cf civilians, made a dash from the fort for the purpose of protecting the wood train, when about four miles from the fort they were surrounded by several thousand Indians and every man of the detachment was killed. The officers killed were Lieut. Col. Fetterman, Capt. F. H. Brown and Lieut. Drummond.

An extract from Col. Carrlngton’s report to the war department reveals the desperate nature of the fight. He says: “The road on the little ridge where the final stand took place was strewn with arrows, arrowheads, scalp poles, and broken shafts of spears. The arrows that were spent harmlessly from all directions show that the command was suddenly overwhelmed, surrounded, and cut off while in retreat. Not an officer or a man survived. A few bodies were found at the north end of the divide over which the road runs just beyond Lodge Trail ridge. Nearly all were heaped near four rocks at the point nearest the fort, these rocks enclosing a space about six feet square, having been the last refuge for defense. Here were found a few rounds of Spencer cartridges un-expended. Fetterman and Brown had each a revolver shot in the left temple, and I am convinced they fell by each others hand, rather than undergo the slow torture inflicted upon others. Pools of blood on the road and sloping sides of the narrow divide showed where Indians bled fatally, but their bodies were carried off. I counted sixty-five such spots in the space of an acre, and three within ten feet of Lieut. Grummond’s body. Between two rocks some distance from where most of the bodies of the soldiers were found I found the bodies of civilians James S. Wheatly and Isaac Fisher, one having 105 arrows in his naked body. The piles of cartridge shells told how bravely they fought. “It is believed from an examination of the bodies of the men that nearly all of them were tortured while wounded. Dr. Morton, post surgeon, was of the opinion that not more than six were killed outright, and that the others were mutilated and tortured to death. The mutilations were frightful. (The article included all the grisly details.)

The treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, stipulated that the government would abandon forts along the Bozeman Trail and included a number of provisions which were designed to encourage the tribes to move closer to the white man’s way of life. But, the treaty was soon broken, and after the Custer fight in 1876, the Indians were moved to government reservations.

Fort Phil Kearney

In an article in The Wyoming Press, Evanson, Wyoming February 10, 1900

To Mark Scene of Massacre. A special to the Denver Republican says that the senate committee on military affairs has mad a favorable report on senator Warren’s bill to provide a monument to mark the ite of the almost forgotten Fort Phil Kearney massacre which occurred m in 1866 in Northern Wyoming, The bill was before the last congress passed the senate, failing in the house. It is believed favorable action will be received in both houses this session. The bill provides that the secretary of war be directed to mark the site of the massacre with a monument of rough masonry and an historical table, and that $500 shall be expended for this purpose, The committee report on the bill is the story of as desperate and disastrous an Indian fight, except in the numbers of victims, as that in which Custer and his command was overwhelmed a few years afterwards.

Fort Phil Kearney has long since been abandoned. The bodies of officers and men who were killed In the massacre were removed m 1889 to the national cemetery on the Custer battlefield, and there is now nothing to mark the site of this frightful disaster to our soldiers ”Massacre Hill”, where the men of Fetterman’s command made their last stand, is on the stage line between Sheridan and Buffalo, Wyoming. It is proposed by the War Department that, should the monument be authorized, it be constructed of rough masonry, something in the nature of a cairn, so that there would be no temptation on the part of relic hunters to deface it.

Today, this monument stands on a hill not far from Story, and the old Fort Phil Kearney Site as a memorial to the soldiers who fell during the battle.


  1. I have been researching all the indian conflicts that have taken place over the years covering the Powder River and it’t tributaries. A good story about about soom of our Indian wars in our area.

  2. If Fetterman had bothered to read all of his Bible, he would have known that the Israelite army did the same thing as the Indians later did to him. Only the Israelites defeated a walled city that way. People who refuse to study history often repeat its mistakes.

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