Published on March 5, 2013 by Carol
Hoping to pioneer and publicize a shorter route to Montana during its gold filled heydays, a prominent Iowa merchant James Sawyers organized an expedition. The expedition team was comprised of 53 men, 15 wagons, and 90 oxen. Joining them was an emigrant train of five wagons and 36 freight wagons owned by C.E. Hedges & Company of Sioux City, Iowa. This large group was escorted by Captain George Williford leading 143 men of the Volunteer Dakota Cavalry. The party traveled slowly up the Niobrara River, at times struggling through sand hills with temperatures climbing over 100 degrees. By the time they reached the badlands of the upper White River, Captain Williford was running out of provisions and sent sent 15 men to Fort Laramie, about 75 miles southwest, for needed supplies on July 21, 1865.
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By August 9th, the expedition had reached the Belle Fourche River and decided to strike northwest to the Powder River. However, they found the next 30 miles very rough with little water, which convinced Sawyers that it was not the place for a wagon road. He turned the wagon train around. Along the way, they were harassed by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. On August 13th, the expedition planned to camp on Bone Pile Creek, about ten miles southwest of present-day Gillette, Wyoming. However, before they arrived a band of Cheyenne killed Nathaniel D. Hedges, a 19-year-old partner in the freighting firm, and ran off eight horses about 1.5 miles from the intended campsite. When they reached the campsite, the group corralled their wagons, dug in to protect themselves from further attacks. They buried Hedges in the center of the corral and concealed the grave. The next day the Indians reappeared and made a dash for the horses but were driven off. On the 15th, about 500 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors circled the camp and began shooting. The expedition men wanted to negotiate with the Indians and give them supplies. Captain George Williford objected to this idea, doubting that it would work; however a wagon load of supplies, which included sugar, bacon, coffee, flour, and tobacco were given to the warriors. When the wagons then began to move again, Williford proved to be correct. Just as they were getting underway, a large group attacked the train killing two soldiers – John Rawze and Anthony Nelson. Fighting back, two of the warriors were also killed. Nelson’s body was the only recovered and he was buried alongside Hedges. Rawze’s body could not be found. The Indians backed off and the expedition continued on.