Fort Phil Kearny
State Historic Site

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Fetterman Monument
Photo by Andrew Hogarth

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Fort Phil Kearny
State Historic Site

528 Wagon Box Road
Banner, WY  82832
Phone: (307) 684-7629

The FETTERMAN FIGHT

The Fetterman Fight
"The Fetterman Fight" by J. K. Ralston.  Courtesy of FPK/BTA.

To read a Northern Cheyenne account of the Fetterman Fight
by the late FPK/BTA Advisory Board Member Bill Tall Bull, click on:
"We Are the Ancestors of Those Yet To Be Born"

     Today an impressive stone monument and memorial plaque marks the site of this tragic battle, one of the few in American military history in which an entire command was wiped out.  A walking path has also been developed in recent years along the ridge, with over 30 signs interpreting the battle from both the military and Indian points of view.  And archaeology is being planned for this summer which may well add to our knowledge. (See News page for details on the archaeology project). Tours of the site have been given most years during Bozeman Trail Days.

     On December 21, 1866,  Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors  staged an ambush some three miles from Fort Phil Kearny. Ordered to rescue a besieged wood-wagon train, Captain William J. Fetterman and 80 men were decoyed over Lodge Trail Ridge by a small number of Indians led by the young Lakota Sioux warrior,  Crazy Horse, into a trap where over 1000 warriors waited in hiding. Fetterman's pursuit over the ridge, in violation of Carrington's orders, led to the death of the entire command.

     The shooting started about noon, and was over by 12:30. Many of the bodies were found by Capt. Ten Eyck  that afternoon. They were stipped and mutilated much in the same manner as were the Cheyenne at the Sand Creek massacre earlier.  Indian oral history accounts indicate that Fetterman himself was killed by famous Sioux warrior, American Horse (Note: This is not the same American Horse who died at the Slim Buttes Battle of 1876).

     Why did Fetterman pursue the Indians over Lodge Trail Ridge after being warned by his Commanding Officer not to? And was he, or Lt. Grummond, at fault--this is being newly argued today. Was Chief Red Cloud present? Exactly how did the battle flow?

    Though archaeological investigations of the site and Indian oral history accounts add greatly to our understanding, many details will be forever shrouded in mystery.

Only the Battle of the Little Big Horn stands as a worse defeat for the United States Army and a greater victory for the Plains Indians.

Note: Dee Brown's book, originally titled Fort Phil Kearny: An American Saga and later re-titled The Fetterman Massacre is, after close to 35 years, still considered the classic study on the early history of the Post. Wild West Magazine of December, 1997, contained a comprehensive article on the Fetterman Fight by McCune and Hart.

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