Then he dismounted his command and approached the campfire in open skirmish order, until it was plain to be seen that the fire was deserted. The trail of a single Indian led into the washout, and imprints in the snow showed where he had sat, evidently for some hours, beside the fire. But of the washout's fugitive tenant no trace could be found, no trail showing his route of departure. In one direction along a sharp ridge leading toward the hogback's crest, the snow was blown away, the ground bare, and this seemed to be his natural line of flight from Baxter's detachment.
After what all believed a thorough search of the vicinity of the fire, Lieutenant Baxter left Corporal Everett and a trooper near the fire, and, remounting, led the balance of his men up the slope with the view to cut the Cheyenne's trail wheresoever it might again enter the snow.
Baxter was gone barely ten minutes when he was startled by two rifle shots in his rear, from the vicinity of the fire! Looking back, he saw his two troopers prostrate in the snow, and later learned that Everett and his mate, while stamping about to keep warm, had approached a little shallow washout within thirty yards of the fire that all vowed they had looked into, and suddenly had discovered the Indian lying at its bottom, wrapped in a length of dirty old canvas the precise color of the gray clay soil which doubtless had served to conceal him through the earlier search. The moment the Indian made sure he was discovered, he cast open his canvas wrap and fired twice with a carbine, shooting Corporal Everett through the stomach and killing him almost instantly, and seriously wounding his mate.
Thus rudely taught that humanity was useless, and that it must be a fight to the death, observing "Papa" Lawson approaching from the fort at the head of his troop, Baxter swung his own men up and along the top of the ridge, where they could better command the old Cheyenne's position, and opened on him a heavy fire - and it was just at this juncture I arrived.
Immediately after I first sighted the Indian, "Papa" Lawson swung around the foot of the hill with his troop, dismounted, and charged up on foot - thus making sixty men concentrated upon one!
The old Cheyenne kept up his rapid fire as long as he could. Toward the last I plainly saw him fire his carbine three times with his left hand, resting the barrel along the edge of the washout, while his right hand hung helpless beside him.
Suddenly I saw him drop down in the bottom of the washout, limp as an empty sack.
When we came up to him it appeared that while the shot that killed him had entered the top of his head, he nevertheless earlier in the engagement had been hit four times - once through the right shoulder, once through the left cheek, once in the right side, and a fourth ball toward the last had completely shattered his right wrist.
It was apparent that he had been making a desperate break to reach my horses, which usually ran in the very next canyon to the west, for he still carried with him a lariat and bridle; but his unprotected feet had been so badly frozen during the night that he had become entirely unable to travel farther, and, realizing himself to be utterly helpless, in sheer desperation had built a fire to get what poor, miserable comfort he could for the few minutes or hours remaining to him!
A curious incident here followed.
An ambulance had come with Lawson's troop to the field, in which the body of Everett and his wounded mate were placed, while the body of the dead Cheyenne was thrown into the boot at the back of the conveyance. Upon arrival in the garrison, Lieutenant Baxter discovered that the body of the Indian had been lost out of the boot on the short four-mile journey into Robinson, and sent back a sergeant and detail of men to recover it. But the most careful search along the trail failed to reveal any trace of the body, and whatever became of it to this day remains a mystery.
On the night of the tenth, fifty-two Indians had been captured, approximately half of them more or less badly wounded, and thirty-seven were known to have been killed, leaving a total of sixty unaccounted for.
Still without food, on the morning of the eleventh, the seventh day of their fast, and unable to march farther, Captain Wessells's column found the fugitives occupying a strong position in the thick timber along Soldier Creek at the foot of the hill upon which they had been entrenched the day before, better sheltered from the severity of the weather.
Again long-range firing was the order of the day, for a charge would have incurred needless hazard.
During this day the Indians succeeded in killing a troop horse on an exposed hillside within three or four hundred yards of their position. The rider narrowly escaped with his life.
The ground where the horse fell was so openly exposed, the carcass had to be left where it had fallen, and that night, after Captain Wessells had again marched his command back to the garrison, the carcass furnished the first food these poor wretches had eaten for seven days!
That their hearts were firm as ever and that all they needed was a little physical strength the next few days effectually proved.
The twelfth they lay eating and resting, and when on the thirteenth, Wessells's column returned to the attack, the Indians were found six miles farther to the west, well entrenched on the Hat Creek Bluffs, and there again an ambush was encountered in which two troopers were wounded.
On this day a twelve-pound Napoleon gun was brought into action, and forty rounds of shell were thrown into the Indians' position, without dislodging them.
The same day Captain Wessells and Lieutenants Crawford and Hardie crept near the rifle-pits with an interpreter and called to the Cheyennes to bring out their women and children, promising them shelter and protection. A feeble volley was the only reply!
Realizing the Indians had now reached a cattle country in which they could kill meat and subsist themselves, Captain Wessells had brought out a pack-train, with blankets and rations, to enable him to surround the Indians' position at night, and, should they slip away, to camp on their trail.
This night they were surrounded, but at dawn on the fourteenth, Lieutenant Crawford discovered the wily enemy had again slipped through the picket lines, headed south-westward along the high bluffs which lined the southern edge of Hat Creek Basin.
For six days more the same tactics on both sides prevailed ; the Indians were daily followed in running fight, or brought to bay in strong positions practically impregnable of direct attack, surrounded at nightfall, only to glide away like veritable shadows during the night, and of course more or less were killed in these daily engagements.
Tuesday, the twenty-first (January, 1879), saw the finish.
At a point on the Hat Creek Bluffs, near the head of War Bonnet Creek, forty-four miles a little to the south of west of Fort Robinson, the Cheyennes lay at bay in their last entrenchment, worn out with travel and fighting, and with scarcely any ammunition left.
They were in a washout about fifty feet long, twelve feet wide, and five feet deep; near the edge of the bluffs.
Skirmishers were thrown out beneath them on the slope of the bluff to prevent their escape in that direction, and then Captain Wessells advanced on the washout, with his men formed in open skirmish order.
A summons through the interpreter to surrender was answered by a few scattering shots from the washout.
Converging on the washout in this charge, the troopers soon were advancing in such a dense body that nothing saved them from terrible slaughter but the exhaustion of the Cheyennes' ammunition.
Charging to the edge of the pit, the troopers emptied their carbines into it, sprang back to reload, and then came on again, while above the crash of the rifles arose the hoarse death chants of the expiring band.
The last three warriors alive - and God knows they deserve the name of warriors if ever men deserved it - sprang out of their defences, one armed with an empty pistol and two with knives, and madly charged the troops!
Three men charged three hundred!
They fell, shot to pieces like men fallen under platoon fire.
And then the fight was over.
The little washout was a shambles, whence the troops removed twenty-two dead and nine living, and of the living all but two (women) were badly wounded!
These were all that remained out of the sixty unaccounted for after the fighting near Fort Robinson, excepting five or six bucks, among them Chief Dull Knife, who had been cut off from the main band in the first night's fight and had escaped to the Sioux.
And among the Ogallala Sioux thereafter, till he died, dwelt Dull Knife, grim and silent as Sphinx or dumb man; brooding his wrongs; cursing the fate that had denied him the privilege to die fighting with his people; sitting alone daily for hours on the crest of a Wounded Knee bluff rising near his teepee, and gazing longingly across the wide reaches of the Bad Lands to a faint blue line, on the northwestern horizon, that marked his old highland home in the Black Hills.