They expected an immediate attack, but none came.
And all day long the garrison was kept under arms, ready for any sortie by the Indians.
Night at last came, and, notwithstanding the terrible warnings of the day, no extraordinary precautions were taken. A guard of only seventeen men were under arms, and of these only a few were on post about this barrack full of maddened savages.
All but Captain Wessells were so certain of a desperate outbreak that night that Lieutenant Baxter and several other officers sat fully dressed and armed in their quarters, awaiting the first alarm.
"Taps" sounded at nine o'clock, the barracks were soon darkened, and the troopers retired.
Only a few lights burned in the officers' quarters and at the trader's store.
The night was still and fearfully cold, the earth hid by the snow.
Ten o'clock came, and just as the "all's well" was passing from one sentry to another, a buck fired through a window and killed a sentry, jumped through the window and got the sentry's carbine and belt, and sprang back into the barrack. Then two or three bucks ran out of the west door, where they quickly shot down Corporal Pulver and Private Hulz, both of Troop A, and Private Tommeny, of Troop E.
At doors and windows the barrack now emptied its horde of desperate captives, maddened by injustice and wild from hunger. Nevertheless, they acted with method and generalship, and with heroism worthy of the noblest men of any race.
The bucks armed with firearms were the first to leave the barrack. These formed in line in front of the barrack and opened fire on the guardhouse and upon the troopers as they came pouring out of neighboring barracks. Thus they held the garrison in check until the women and children and the old and infirm were in full flight.
Taken completely by surprise, the troops, nevertheless, did fearfully effective work. Captain Wessells soon had them out, and not a few entered into the fight and pursuit clad in nothing but their underclothing, hatless and shoeless.
The fugitives took the road to the sawmill crossing of white River, only a few hundred yards distant from their barracks, crossed the White River, and started southwest toward my ranch, where they evidently expected to mount themselves out of my herd of cow ponies, for they carried with them all their lariats, saddles, and bridles to this point. Here, pressed hopelessly close by the troops, their gallant rear-guard melting fast before the volleys of the pursuers, the Indians dropped their horse equipments, turned, and recrossed White River, and headed for the high, precipitous divide between Soldier Creek and White River, two miles nearer their then position than the cliffs about my ranch. They knew their only chance lay in quickly reaching hills inaccessible to cavalry.
All history affords no record of a more heroic, forlorn hope than this Cheyenne sortie.
Had the bucks gone alone, many would surely have escaped, but they resolved to die together and to protect their women and children to the last.
Thus more than half their fighting men fell in the first half mile of this flying fight. And as the warriors fell, their arms were seized by the squaws and boys, who wielded them as best they could!
In the gloom of night the soldiers could not distinguish a squaw from a buck. Lieutenant Cummings fell into a washout near the sawmill nearly atop of two Indians. They attacked him with knives, but he succeeded in killing both with his pistol - only to find that they were squaws!
The struggle was often hand-to-hand, and many of the dead were powder-burned. For a long distance the trail was strewn thick with bodies.
A sergeant and several men were pursuing two isolated fugitives who proved to be a buck and squaw. Suddenly the two fugitives turned and charged their pursuers, the buck armed with a pistol, the squaw with a piece of an iron stove! They were shot down.
This running fight afoot continued for nearly a mile, when the troops, many of them already badly frozen, were hurried back to the garrison to get needed clothing and their mounts.
[E. B. Bronson, who tells the tale, was in his ranch five miles away that night but the sound of firing at ten o'clock caused him to mount horse and hurry to the Fort with a friend.]
Presently, nearing the narrow fringe of timber that lined the stream, we could see ahead of us a broad, dark line dividing the snow: it was the trail of pursued and pursuers - the line of flight. Come to it, we halted.
There at our feet, grim and stark and terrible in the moonlight, lay the dead and wounded, so thick for a long way that one could leap from one body to another; there they lay grim and stark, soldiers and Indians, the latter lean and gaunt as wolves from starvation, awful with their wounds, infinitely pathetic on this bitter night in their ragged, half-clothed nakedness.
We started to ride across the trail, when in a fallen buck I happened to notice I recognized Buffalo Hump, Dull Knife's son.
He lay on his back, with arms extended and face upturned. In his right hand he held a small knife, a knife worn by years and years of use from the useful proportions of a butcher knife until the blade was no more than one quarter of an inch wide at the hilt, a knife descended to domestic use by the squaws as an awl in sewing moccasins, and yet the only weapon this magnificent warrior could command in this his last fight for freedom!
As I sat on my horse looking down at Buffalo Hump, believing him dead, the picture rose in my mind of the council in which he had stalked from end to end of the barrack, burning with an anger and hatred which threatened even then and there to break out into violence, when suddenly he rose to a sitting position and aimed a fierce blow at my leg with his knife. Instinctively, as he rose, I spurred my horse out of his reach and jerked my pistol, but before I could use it he fell back and lay still - dead.
So died Buffalo Hump, a warrior capable, with half a chance, of making martial history worthy even of his doughty old father.