Two American “Royals” Killed on the Same Day

Today in History, November 27, 1868:

His story could make him the 19th-Century version of Joe Kennedy, Jr or John F. Kennedy.  He was born in 1844 into a family filled with Secretaries of the Treasury and Secretaries of State, wealthy bankers, and his grandfather, Alexander Hamilton, was a Founding Father and the first Secretary of the Treasury in President Washington’s cabinet.  And of course, Alexander Hamilton lost his bright future in a duel, killed by Vice-President Aaron Burr in 1804.  Both the Hamiltons and the McLanes were well placed.

Louis McLane Hamilton had wealth, influence, a bright future, and according to his contemporaries, a high degree of character.  Joe and Jack Kennedy had used their influence to get INTO combat during WWII.  It cost Joe his life, and very nearly cost JFK his.  Likewise, young Louis Hamilton used his influence to get into combat during the Civil War when he was 17 and 18.  JFK had to use his father the former Ambassador’s influence to get an assignment in the Pacific.  Louis had a letter from President Lincoln himself to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton recommending his commission as an officer.  Louis didn’t waste what was given to him.  He fought with distinction during the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Siege of Petersburg and Appomattox Courthouse.

After the war Hamilton continued his service, serving as a Lieutenant and a Captain in the 7th Calvary under Colonel George Armstrong Custer.  Hamilton commanded Fort Lyon in Colorado for a time, and fended off an attack led by Chief Pawnee Killer.  

On November 26th, 1868 he found himself assigned as “Officer of the Day”, an assignment which gave him responsibility for the 7th Cavalry’s supply train as Custer searched in Indian Territory for Southern Cheyenne warriors.  As Custer planned a pursuit, some of Hamilton’s command was taken to bolster the assault’s numbers.  True to his nature, Hamilton went to Custer and made his case…earnestly, insistently asking not to be left behind as his troops went into battle.  Custer was sympathetic to the request…he would make the same request before the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Custer agreed to let Hamilton leave the wagon train and join his troops.

As a result, Captain Louis McLane Hamilton, Alexander’s grandson, was at the lead of his troops who, as it happened, were the first to attack Chief Black Kettle’s village along the Washita River.

“Keep cool, fire low, and not too rapidly” was the last thing Hamilton was heard to say before being shot in the chest, killed instantly, by one of the defenders firing from within a wigwam.  Hamilton the first person killed in the battle.

Elsewhere on the battlefield was Chief Black Kettle and his wife.  Not much is known about Chief Black Kettle prior to the mid 1850’s, but what is known that this leader in the Southern Cheyenne tribe often worked hard to keep the peace.  In 1864 he and his band were in Colorado when some settlers had been attacked.  The Governor declared any Indians who did not report to a military post would be considered hostile.  Chief Black Kettle led his band to Fort Lyon and came to an agreement with the commander there for his Southern Cheyenne to camp along Sand Creek in eastern Colorado.  This agreement didn’t prevent Colorado Militia Colonel Chivington, ambitious and about to lose his troops to the end of their enlistment, from attacking the peaceful encampment, which was complete with an American flag flying.  Many were killed, but Black Kettle and his wife managed to survive.

He was encamped with his people along the Washita River in present day Oklahoma for much the same reason, with the same results.  But this time his luck ran out.  As he and his wife fled, they were shot down and killed.

Curly Joins His Comrades

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Today in History, May 23, 1923:

Ashishishe, son of Strong Bear and and Strikes by the Side of the Water, husband to Bird Woman and later Takes a Shield, is laid to rest at the National Cemetery of the Bighorn Battlefield in Montana, alongside the members of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry who had died there on June 25, 1876.

He was known by his US Army contemporaries as Curly. Curly was a Crow Indian serving the US Army as a scout with the 7th Cavalry leading up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Just before the battle began, as was customary, Custer released his Native American scouts. Curly rode off with the others, stopping on a hill about a mile away, he watched the battle through field glasses.

When it became obvious that the 7th would be defeated, Curly rode for two days until he met an Army supply boat at the confluence of the Big and Little Big Horn rivers, and made his report.

Curly told of how the 7th fought for hours, until they had expended all of their ammunition; by Curly’s estimation taking approximately 600 Sioux warriors with them. Hailed as a hero for being the “lone survivor”, although reporters attempting to glorify his actions used poetic license to say that he was actually in the battle and escaped by pretending to be one of the Sioux allies, Curly’s original and later accounts were that he “did nothing wonderful.” Some reporters “quoted” Curly as saying that he had been in the battle, which angered some of the Sioux that were. But in many accounts Curly repeated that he was not, and that he “did nothing wonderful.”

He served in the Crow Police and given a military pension only three years before his death from pneumonia. I find his story interesting as an example of why we must remember all of the components of the times when viewing history. Is Curly a traitor to his people because he served the US Army against other Indians? I found while researching this that at that time the Sioux and the Crow were dire enemies, so the Crow allied with the Army (the enemy of my enemy is my friend). Did he “desert” the 7th Cavalry? No. It was customary not to keep the Indian scouts in the midst of battle; his leaving was expected of him.

“A People’s Dream Died There…”

Today in History, December 29: 1890 –

Massacre at Wounded Knee. “I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … the nation’s hope is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” – Black Elk, Lakota Sioux Medicine Man.

“scuffle occurred between one warrior who had [a] rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a battle occurred, not only the warriors but the sick Chief Spotted Elk, and a large number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the prairie were hunted down and killed.” – Gen. Nelson A. Miles, US Army.

Most of the Lakota were demoralized by life on the reservations due to the impoverished and bitter conditions. A new religious belief began to spring up and gave them hope…that by performing the Ghost Dance, their dead would return, the Bison would become plentiful again, and the white men would leave, allowing them to return to their former lives.

There were no plans to attack anyone, but the increasing fervor of the movement made the Indian Agent nervous and he called for military protection. It came in the form of the 7th Cavalry, Custer’s old command, and some of the soldiers at Wounded Knee had been with Capt. Benteen at Little Big Horn.

Earlier in December an attempt was made to arrest famed Sitting Bull at his home, who was not part of the movement. When he pulled away from one of those attempting to arrest him, he and several others were killed. Tensions rose…

On December 28th a contingent of the 7th intercepted a band of Lakota and escorted them to Wounded Knee Creek, where they all camped. On the 29th the remainder of the 7th arrived and surrounded the camp, supported by 4 rapid fire Hotchiss guns…

Col. James Forsyth ordered that the Indians be disarmed. Troopers moves about the encampment, seizing weapons. When they attempted to take Black Coyote’s rifle (he was deaf and didn’t understand their commands) he protested. A scuffle ensued and a shot was fired. Nobody knows if it was his rifle going off or a nervous participant, but that is all it took.

The troopers surrounding the camp opened fire with all they had, and chased fleeing men, women and children across the plains. When it was over 150 Lakota and 25 troopers lay dead. Most of the Sioux bodies would not be recovered until a blizzard occurring the next few days passed. This was the last battle (if you can call it that) of the Plains Indian Wars. Commanding Gen. Miles removed Forsyth from his command, but he would be reinstated.

Curly Joins His Comrades

 

Today in History, May 23: 1923 – US Army Scout Curly, a Crow Indian, is laid to rest at Little Big Horn where George Armstrong Custer and the remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment had been killed. Curly had been part of a contingent of Crow Scouts attached to the army as allies against the Sioux. As the battle began Custer dismissed the scouts so they could seek safety. Curly stayed…until he realized how hopeless the situation was. He made his way to a hill about 2 miles from the battlefield where he watched the events unfold. He then rode quickly to warn other regiments of the massacre. Thus after his death from pneumonia on May 21, he was buried with the 7th.