(Condensed by permission from E. B. Bronson's account as given in "Reminiscences of a Ranchman." D. P. & Co. This with "The Redblood" by the same author should be read by all who are interested in the heroic days of the West).
After the Custer fight, the American Army succeeded in rounding up the Indians who could not or would not escape to Canada, the one land of justice that was near, and among these were Dull Knife's Cheyennes. They surrendered on promise of fair treatment.
But as soon as they were in the power of the American Government (President R. B. Hayes), they were marched six hundred miles south into Indian Territory, where they were crowded into a region so unhealthy that it was obviously a question of but three or four years before all would die. They were starving, too, for the promised rations were never delivered. Nearly half were sick of fevers and malaria, for medicine was refused them. The two hundred and thirty-five warriors were reduced to sixty-nine. The extermination of the tribe was being effected. They begged for succor; they asked only to go home to their own land, but, as usual, no notice was taken of their prayers.
They could not live where they were. The American Government was obviously bent on killing them off, so they decided that it would be better to die at home - taking the chance of bullets rather than the certainty of fever.
On the ninth of September, 1878, therefore, Dull Knife, their head chief, gathered in his pomes, packed up his camp, burned the last bridge, and, with warriors, women, and children, set out for home, in defiance of the soldiers of a corrupt government.
At dawn his departure was discovered, troops were ordered out, telegraph wires were busied, and then began a flight and a pursuit the story of which should thrill the world for the heroism of the fugitives, and shock humanity for the diabolical brutality of the American authorities.
Two thousand troops were sent against this handful of some sixty-nine warriors, sick and weak with starvation, and encumbered with about two hundred and fifty, more or less, sick women and children.
I do not believe there was an American soldier who was not ashamed of his job. But he had no right to an opinion. He was under orders to run down and capture or kill this band of starving Indians, whose abominable crime was that they loved their homes. We have had fragmentary accounts of that awful flight. Night and day the warriors rode and fought. Some days they, covered seventy miles and when their horses gave out, they raided the settlements for a new supply. Against them were four lines of soldiers, with railroads to keep them supplied and the United States Treasury to draw on, and yet this starving band of heroes fought them in two or three pitched battles every week; fought them when nearly even; eluded them when too strong; fooled them, and caring ever for their wives and families, left all behind; and, at last, on the fourth of October, the grand old warrior led his people across the South Platte and on to the comparative haven of the Niobrara Sandhills.
This waterless waste of sand gave them a little respite from the troops, but no chance to rest, or food to eat. They must push on, subsisting on flesh of horses, sacrificed as they had need.
On the thirteenth of October a small band of the fighters raided a store and drove off a band of horses from a place one mile east of Fort Robinson. These gave them new supplies, but it also gave their enemies the trail, and four troops of cavalry were at once sent to surround Crow Butte, the Cheyenne camp. But the Indians were not caught napping, the next morning dawned to show only that they had quietly passed all lines and were now far on the road to Canada.
Later it was learned that this was the larger part of the band, but was under Little Wolf not Dull Knife. He safely led them all, and escaped without the loss of a man to the far north and found rest.
This march is not excelled in the annals of warfare. It covered a distance of more than one thousand miles in less than fifty days, with a column encumbered with women and children, every step of the trail contested by all the troops of the United States Army that could be concentrated to oppose them; a march that struck and parted like ropes of sand the five great military barriers interposed across their path; the first across the Kansas Pacific Railway, commanded by General Pope; the second along the Union Pacific Railroad in Nebraska, commanded by General Crook; the third along the Niobrara, commanded by General Bradley; the fourth, the Bear Butte (Seventh Cavalry) column, stretched east from the Black Hills; the fifth along the Yellowstone, commanded by General Gibbon.
But Dull Knife and his band of those less able to travel- some one hundred and fifty - were still in the Sandhills. He sent an urgent prayer to Red Cloud of the Sioux for help, but the sad answer was that it was hopeless to resent the President's will. Ten days later the troops located the Cheyennes.
(From this to the end is quoted from Bronson).
In rags, nearly out of ammunition, famished and worn, with scarcely a horse left that could raise a trot, no longer able to fight or fly, suffering from cold and disheartened by Red Cloud's refusal to receive and shelter them, the splendid old war chief and his men were forced to bow to the inevitable and surrender.
Later in the day Johnson succeeded in rounding up the last of Dull Knife's scattered command and headed north for white River with his prisoners, one hundred and forty-nine Cheyennes and one hundred and thirty-one captured ponies.
The evening of the twenty-fourth, Johnson camped at Louis Jenks's ranch on Chadron Creek, near the present town of Chadron, Neb.