Published on October 26, 2014 by Carol
The evening after the Fetterman disaster, a civilian, John “Portugee” Philips,” volunteered to carry a distress message to Fort Laramie. Carrington’s message to General Cooke told of Fetterman’s fate and requested immediate reinforcements and repeating Spencer carbines. Philips accomplished the 236 mile ride to Fort Laramie in four days. A blizzard began on December 22, and Philips rode through a foot of snow and below-zero temperatures. He never saw a single Indian during his ride. He arrived at Fort Laramie late in the evening on December 25 during a full-dress Christmas ball and staggered, exhausted, into the party to deliver his message.
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General Cooke immediately relieved Carrington of command, replacing him with Brigadier General Henry W. Wessells. Wessells arrived safely at Fort Kearny on January 16 with two companies of cavalry and four of infantry. One man in his command froze to death during the journey. Carrington left Fort Kearny on January 23 with his wife and the other women and children, including the pregnant wife of the deceased Lt. Grummond, and braved temperatures as low as 38 below F (-39 C) during the journey to Fort Laramie. One half of his 60 soldier escort suffered frostbite. General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the U.S. Army, was not inclined to blame only Carrington. He relieved Cooke on January 9, 1867. Both an Army court of inquiry and the Secretary of the Interior investigated the Fetterman Fight. The Army’s reached no official conclusion, and Interior’s exonerated Carrington. After a severe hip injury, Carrington resigned his commission in 1870. He spent the rest of his life defending his actions and condemning Fetterman’s alleged disobedience.
After the Fetterman Fight, the Indians dispersed into smaller groups for the 1866-1867 winter and conflict subsided. However, Wessells and his men at Fort Phil Kearny had a difficult time. Food was short, most of the horses and mules died from lack of forage, and scurvy was common among the soldiers. Plans for a punitive winter campaign against the Indians were cancelled. In April, Indian raids along the Oregon Trail in the North Platte River valley began. Journalist Henry M. Stanley, later of African fame, said, “Murders are getting to be so tame from their plurality, that no one pays any attention to them.” Most serious was the Indian threat to the construction of he First Transcontinental Railroad routed through southern Wyoming. Although army forces had been augmented along the Bozeman Trail and at Fort Laramie in the wake of the Fetterman disaster, resources were still insufficient to take the offensive against the Indians. Peace negotiations conducted by the friendly Lakota chieftain Spotted Tail with Red Cloud initially seemed promising, but proved to be only a delaying tactic by the Indians. The Lakota held their annual Sun Dance in July which also delayed the renewal of major hostilities