THE PINE RIDGE CAMPAIGN OF 1890-’91*
The participation of Companies C, E, F and H, under Lieutenant Colonel Van Home, 25th Infantry, in the Pine Ridge Campaign of 1890-’91, receives but scant mention in the regimental returns, but inasmuch as this was the last important Indian war in which United States troops were engaged, a brief account of the campaign would, no doubt, be of interest and is given herewith.
Many causes are ascribed for the outbreak among the various Indian tribes throughout Montana and the Dakotas in the winter of 1890-’91, but there can be little doubt that the condition of destitution among the Indians brought about by reduced rations and the dishonesty and mismanagement of minor government officials had a far reaching effect. Suffering under a sense, imagined and real, of injustice and oppression the credulous Indians were ready to accept any scheme which promised them relief, and it is little wonder that they were quite willing to believe the promises made them by an Indian who claimed to be their Messiah. The principal tenet of this new religion, or craze, was that the coming of the Messiah would give domination of the red man over the white, and that the white man would be driven from the country and vast herds of buffalo would cover the prairies as in the days gone by. It was also believed that coincident with the disappearance of the white man all dead Indians would be resurrected, and join the living and together they would roam the country in unrestrained liberty.
The craze grew apace, and a dance, known as the “ghost dance,” sprang into vogue. This dance induced a religious fervor, and added greatly to the prevailing agitation. By November of 1890 there were serious indications of an uprising among the Sioux in the Dakotas, and at some of the agencies there was open defiance of the Indian agents and police. At the request of the Interior Department, who had become convinced that the situation was too serious to be handled without troops, the War Department took action by directing General Miles, division commander at Chicago, to take such measures as he deemed necessary to cope with the situation.
General Miles immediately ordered that all troops at the various stations in the Northwest be put in instant readiness to proceed to the scene of action, and an initial force of cavalry was sent to the Standing Rock Agency where trouble seemed to be most imminent.
Investigations instituted by General Miles and the various Department Commanders prior to and during the outbreak, revealed that a secret conspiracy existed among certain of the prominent leaders of the Sioux to effect an organized revolt against the white race in which the tribes of the Northwest were to unite in common cause. The time set for this revolt was the spring of 1891. This added a grave danger to a situation that was already serious enough, and required prompt and decisive action on the part of the military authorities.
General Ruger, commanding the Department of Dakota, made a visit to the Indian Agencies along the Missouri River, and by his tact and the adoption of certain precautionary measures he succeeded in quieting the hostile elements. However, at the Pine Ridge Agency about the middle of November, 1890, matters became decidedly threatening, and at daybreak, November 20th, General Brooke, commander of the Department of the Platte, arrived at the agency with a force composed of five companies of infantry, three troops of cavalry, and a small battery of artillery. This force was in a rather precarious position inasmuch as they were greatly outnumbered by the Indians, and the situation was rather acute until the arrival of more troops later in the month.
The disaffected and hostile factions at the agency, probably numbering about three thousand, left soon after the arrival of the troops, and sought refuge in the Bad Lands, a
* The material for this chapter was obteined from an article by Col. Philip Harvey in Army & Navy Life entitled
“The Last Stand of the Sioux”, and personal reminiscences of former members of the regiment.