|CONNOR BATTLE; 1865:
No Indian wars battle stands alone. All had roots in years previous as the white frontier
moved relentlessly westward, pushing the Plains Indian tribes into increasingly less
territory. This caused conflict with the white intruders and increased that which
had already existed for many years among the tribes.
It was the job of General Patrick E. Connor, Commander of the
Powder River Expedition, to make war upon the Indians and punish them, so that they would
be forced to keep the peace. Guides for the Conner expedition included famous frontiersmen
Jim Bridger and Mitch Boyer.
On August 29, 1865, less than a year before the establishment
of Fort Phil Kearny, 125 cavalry with 90 Pawnee scouts, under the command of Brigadier
General Patrick E. Connor, attacked Chief Black Bear's Arapaho Indian camp along the
Tongue River in Northeastern Wyoming. According to Capt. Palmer, "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 made a brief stand while their families
scattered. The Indians fled up a small stream, Wolf Creek, and Connor followed at a
gallop, only to be driven back. While the troops destroyed the village including tents and
food supplies for the winter, the Arapahos launched an aggressive counter-attack, which
drove Connor down the Tongue River.
Only the use of howitzers, holding the Indians at a distance
during the defensive withdrawal, saved the out-numbered soldiers from serious loss, though
several soldiers died from injuries later. This was the single most important military
engagement of the three-pronged Powder River Expedition of 1865, which included the
expeditions of Cole and Walker. It caused the Arapaho, thought now to be non-hostile
previous to the attack, to attack Sawyers' Expedition shortly after, and to join forces
with Sioux and Cheyenne at the Fetterman Battle in December of 1866.
The Arapaho village of Black Bear
is often considered non-belligerent by historians today, though by reading the
diary of Captain H.E. Palmer (from Coutant's History of Wyoming) it is apparent that the
soldiers were not aware of this.
Connor's attack was probably
influential in causing the Arapaho to attack the Sawyers' Expedition shortly after, to
ally with the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Fetterman Fight the next year near Fort Phil
Kearny, and to fight at the Rosebud Battle and the Battle of the Little Bighorn more
than a decade later. The far reaching effects of these conflicts continued into the
development of the reservation system (which placed the Arapaho Tribe on the Wind River
Reservation west of the Big Horn Mountains) and into relationships between tribes and
non-Indian governments today.
A monument at the site in the
southern end of the park, located at the south end of the town of Ranchester,
Wyoming, now marks the area of the Indian encampment. Playground equipment, campsites, and
extensive landscaping have helped turn this site into a beautiful area administered
by the Wyoming State Parks and Historic Sites, and administered out of Fort Phil Kearny.
The tragic events of the past can be felt in this quiet
and contemplative setting.
--by Mary Ellen McWilliams