Battle of the Tongue River
|Battle of the Tongue River|
|Part of the Indian Wars|
|United States||Arapaho Indians|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Patrick E. Connor
|Chief Black Bear|
|200 soldiers, 70 Indian scouts
two artillery pieces
|500, including women and children|
|Casualties and losses|
|~ 63 killed, including women and children
18 women and children captured
The Battle of the Tongue River, sometimes referred to as the Connor Battle, was an engagement of the Powder River Expedition of 1865, directed against the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota Sioux. Soldiers and Indian scouts attacked and destroyed an Arapaho village.
Major General Grenville M. Dodge assumed command of the Department of the Missouri in 1865. Dodge ordered a punitive campaign to suppress the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho Indians who had been raiding overland mail routes, wagon trains, and military posts along the Oregon and Overland trails. He gave tactical command of the Powder River Expedition, as it was called, to Brigadier General Patrick Edward Connor, commander of the District of Utah.
The expedition was a multi-pronged affair involving 2,600 soldiers, civilians, and Indian scouts. Three columns of soldiers were to descend upon the Powder River Country of Wyoming and Montana, unite, and "make vigorous war upon the Indians and punish them so that they will be forced to keep the peace." Connor was in overall command and led the westernmost prong of the expedition. The force under his direct command consisted of 380 soldiers, including civilian guides headed by mountain man Jim Bridger, 95 Pawnee scouts under Frank North, 84 Omaha and Winnebago scouts under Capt. E. W. Nash, and 195 civilian teamsters. Connor left Fort Laramie on July 30, 1865, marching north. He established a fort on the upper Powder River which he named Fort Connor (later Fort Reno) and left some of his men there to staff the fort.
Jim Bridger saw the smoke of an Indian village and Connor sent out Frank North and two Pawnee to find the village. On August 28, the scouts reported back that they had found the village about 35 miles west of Connor's force. Connor quickly collected his most mobile soldiers, consisting of about 200 soldiers with two howitzers and 40 Omaha and Winnebago and 30 Pawnee scouts, and marched that night toward the village. With Bridger leading them, they reached the village about eight a.m. the next morning.
The soldiers charged the village, having achieved complete surprise. The howitzers pounded the village while the soldiers rushed in, catching the Indians unprepared. In the melee, there was a great deal of indiscriminate firing and women and children were killed as well as warriors. The village, led by Black Bear and Medicine Man, had about 500 inhabitants. Many of the men were absent for a raid on the Crow along the Big Horn River, leaving mostly old men, women, and children in the village. After the initial attack the few able warriors in the village put up an effective defense, retreating about twelve miles up Wolf Creek while covering the flight of the women and children.
Most of the soldiers remained in the village to loot and burn the tipis, but Connor and about 30 men, including 15 Pawnee, pursued the retreating Arapaho. The Arapaho counterattacked and Connor, his horses spent, was forced to retreat back to the village. The soldiers there completed their work of destruction as the Indians harassed them from a distance, attempting to re-capture their horse herd. The soldiers abandoned the destroyed village about 2:30 that afternoon, North and the Pawnee leading and driving before them more than 500 captured horses. The Arapaho persisted in their attacks but were unable to re-capture the horses, eventually giving up the effort. At 3 a.m. the next morning, the soldiers reached their starting point, having covered more than 70 miles and fought a battle in less than 36 hours.
Casualties and aftermath
Connor claimed to have killed 63 Arapaho, including 35 warriors, with a loss to himself of five dead and two seriously wounded. He singled out four Winnebago, including the chief, Little Priest, plus North and 15 Pawnee for bravery. Connor strictly forbade looting and burned all the property collected during the occupation of the village. He released the women and children he had captured. The battle was hailed as a great victory on the frontier.
The Arapaho were apparently not cowed by the destruction of one of their villages. Two days later, on September 1, 100 or more of them attacked a well-armed train of 60 ox wagons along the Tongue River. They killed two men, stole livestock, and kept the wagon train under siege for two weeks until Connor's army rescued it. The effectiveness of the Arapaho attack was limited by their shortage of powder for their muskets. Many of the bullets they fired failed to penetrate the skin of either men or oxen. (See Sawyers Fight)
No physical evidence of the battle remains. The battleground is preserved by the Connor Battlefield State Historic Site in Ranchester, Wyoming. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Hampton, H. D. "The Powder River Expedition 1865" Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 14, NO. 4 (Autumn 1964), 4
- Hampton, p. 12
- McDermott, John D. Circle of Fire: The Indian War of 1865, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2000, pp 111-112
- McDermott, p. 112-114
- McDermott, pp. 115-116
- Hampton, p. 13; McDermott, p. 116
- McDermott, pp 124-127
- Connor Battlefield, Wyoming Division of State Parks and Historic Sites
- Connor Battlefield, Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site
- John Dishon McDermott, Circle of fire: the Indian war of 1865