Powder River Expedition (August-September, 1865)

Published on March 4, 2013 by Carol

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Powder River Expedition

Also called the Powder River War, this military campaign was ordered by Major General Grenville M. Dodge as a punitive operation against the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho for their raiding along the Bozeman Trail. Dodge also ordered that the first fort on the trail be established along the Powder River. Led by Brigadier General Patrick E. Connor, it was one of the last Indian war campaigns carried out by U.S. Volunteer soldiers. The chief guide in the operation was none other than the legendary frontiersman Jim Bridger, who would establish a new route of the Bozeman Trail from the North Platte River near present-day Douglas to just south of Buffalo, Wyoming.

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General Connor divided the expedition into three columns, which were to rendezvous on Rosebud Creek on or about September 1, 1865. The “Right Column,” which was to march up the Loup Fork of the North Platte River in Nebraska and then march around the northern edge of the Black Hills to the rendezvous. Made up of Missouri Volunteers led by Colonel Nelson Cole, the column was composed of 140 wagons and approximately 1,400 soldiers which were ordered to attack any hostiles that they met along the way. The “Center Column,” operating north from Fort Laramie, Wyoming and west of the Black Hills, was led by Colonel Samuel Walker of the 16th Kansas Cavalry. Walker’s column was composed of 600 of his own men.

General Connor and the “Left Column” marched up the Bozeman Traill with several objectives, including building a fort along the trail. With some 675 troops, the soldiers left Fort Laramie, Wyoming on July 30, 1865. The troops reached the Powder River on August 11th, where Colonel James H. Kidd, leading 200 men of the 6th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry were tasked with building a new fort. First called Camp Connor, and later, Fort Reno, work began immediately. Connor then divided the remaining 475 soldiers into two groups. Connor accompanied the first, led by famed Pawnee scout, Captain Frank North, which consisted of 90 men each of the 7th Iowa and 11th. Ohio Cavalries and 95 Pawnee scouts. This group would continue north encountering only minor skirmishing until it reached the camp of Arapaho Chief Black Bear where the Battle of the Tongue River took place on August 29th. The second group was commanded by Captain Albert Brown of the 2nd California Cavalry and consisted of 116 volunteers and 84 Omaha Scouts. This group was to continue up the North Platte River to the Platte Bridge before heading northwestward to the Wind River, and finally eastward to join up again with Connor.

After the army victory at the Battle of the Tongue River, the raids on the Bozeman Trail and overland mail routes ceased for a time. However, it would also drive the Arapaho into an alliance with the Sioux and Cheyenne, which would eventually grow into Red Cloud’s War.

At the same time, James A Sawyers was leading a federally-funded expedition authorized to build a road from Niobrara, Nebraska on the Missouri River, to Virginia City, Montana. The expedition, with a military escort, was traveling over the Bozeman Trail at the same time Connor was campaigning in the Powder River Basin. Sawyers failed in his mission to improve the Bozeman Trail as the expedition was turned back in the face of Indian attacks.

The U.S. Government claimed that treaties signed at Fort Sully, South Dakota in 1865 had restored peace to the area. However, many Sioux leaders did not sign them and were unaware of a provision allowing the government to build roads and forts in the territory.

Source: Legendsofamerica

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