|Part of Red Cloud's War|
|United States||Cheyenne and Sioux Indians|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Lt. Col. Luther P. Bradley
Lt. Sigismund Sternberg
D. A. (Al) Colvin
|21 soldiers, 9 civilians||500-800|
|Casualties and losses|
|Unknown: estimates from 8 to 23 killed|
The Hayfield Fight on August 1, 1867 was an engagement of Red Cloud's War near Fort C. F. Smith, Montana between 21 soldiers of the U.S. Army, a hay cutting crew of nine civilians, and several hundred American Indians, mostly Cheyenne and Arapaho but including some Lakota Sioux. The soldiers held off the Indians with newly issued breech-loading Springfield Model 1866 rifles, inflicting significant casualties.
Fort C.F. Smith was founded in 1866 as one of three forts established by the United States to protect emigrants on the Bozeman Trail which led from Fort Laramie in Wyoming to the gold fields of Montana. The trail ran through the Powder River country occupied by the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Crow. The first three tribes bitterly opposed the existence of the Bozeman Trail and the presence of American soldiers along the trail. In Red Cloud's War the Indians repeatedly attacked the soldiers and civilians traversing the trail. In the Fetterman Fight on December 21, 1866, the Indians scored a major victory, killing all 81 men in Fetterman's command.
Indian attacks near Fort Smith resumed in summer 1867. In June Indians captured 40 mules and horses from the fort, drove away the livestock of a military supply train, and harassed Crow villages near the fort. On July 12, Crow scouts told the soldiers that Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors were gathering in the Rosebud valley, 50 miles east of the fort. On July 23, two companies of infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Luther P. Bradley, arrived to reinforce the fort. Bradley brought with him breech-loading Springfield Model 1866 rifles to replace the obsolete muskets the soldiers were armed with. The new rifles had a rate of fire of 8 to 10 rounds per minute, compared to 3 rounds per minute for the old muskets and could be reloaded easily from a prone position. The garrison of the fort, now commanded by Bradley, consisted of about 350 soldiers and a number of civilian contractors. Most of the civilians were armed with 7-shot Spencer repeating rifles.
A major activity at Fort Smith was cutting and drying grass for hay to feed livestock during the long, cold winters. Two and one-half miles from the fort, a corral had been built for defense of the civilian hay cutters. The corral was 100 feet by 60 feet in size (about 30 by 18 mts). Large logs had been laid on the ground over which a lattice framework was erected. Trenches were dug at each corner for defense. Tents and a picket line for livestock were inside the corral. Outside the corral were three rifle pits.
In late July 1867, after their annual sun dance, bands of Oglala Lakota under Red Cloud and the other Powder River Sioux joined with Northern Cheyenne on the Little Bighorn River, where they resolved to attack soldiers at Fort C.F. Smith and Fort Phil Kearny. Unable to agree which to attack first, the bands split into two large groups, with several hundred moving against Fort C.F. Smith and a similar number, including Red Cloud, headed to Fort Phil Kearny.
On the morning of August 1, 1867, pickets on a hilltop warned the soldiers and civilians in the hayfield of the approach of a large number of Indians. Lt. Sigismund Sternberg of the U.S. Army's 27th Infantry, his 20 soldiers, and the 9 civilians quickly took refuge inside the corral. The Indians occupied the rifle pits outside the corral while the soldiers took cover behind the logs in the corral. After the first volley from the soldiers the Indians rushed the corral, anticipating that the soldiers would take twenty or thirty seconds to reload their muskets. They were surprised when heavy fire continued to be directed at them by the soldiers with their faster firing breech-loaders rifles. The Indians broke off the attack, which gave the defenders time to improve their defenses by digging trenches and filling wagon boxes with dirt to stop bullets. Lt. Sternberg attempted to direct the defense standing up and was killed by a bullet. Sergeant James Horton took command but was soon wounded. A civilian, D. A. (Al) Colvin, then directed the defense. The Indians charged the corral again from the bluffs on the east and south of the corral and were again repulsed, but another soldier was killed and two wounded. Indians then attempted to set the grass and the lattice-work wall around the fort on fire with flaming arrows, but the wind direction changed and the fire died out. Sniping between the two sides continued all morning. No reinforcements came from Fort Smith although the sounds of the battle should have been audible to the soldiers in the fort.
The Indians withdrew about noon and the soldiers were able to re-fill their water barrel in the river. The Indians resumed the attack that afternoon, but the soldiers were firmly entrenched, the Indians had little ammunition, and arrows had little effect on the soldiers behind the log barriers. The Indians, however, showered the pack animals with arrows, killing or wounding most of 22 mules in the corral. About one p.m., a Lt. Palmer guarding a train of wagons loaded with wood witnessed the fight from a hilltop and brought back the news to Colonel Murray inside Fort Smith that the corral in the hayfield was under attack by 500 to 800 Indians. Later, Private Charles Bradley escaped from the corral and galloped to the fort to inform Murray of the attack. However, it was not until 4 p.m. that Murray sent out a small force of 20 mounted soldiers to investigate. They quickly came under attack. Murray then sent out a full company of soldiers with a howitzer. The soldiers made their way to the corral about sundown. Most of the Indians had already given up the attack and departed. At 8:30 p.m. all the soldiers were back in Fort Smith.
Bradley made little of the fight in his official report and the Hayfield Fight has received little attention from historians despite being very similar in size and outcome to the Wagon Box Fight which took place the next day near Fort Phil Kearny. Bradley was criticized by several of his soldiers for delay in sending help to the men trapped in the Hayfield. The fights at Hayfield and the Wagon Box may have discouraged the Indians from undertaking any further large-scale attacks along the Bozeman Trail during the year remaining in Red Cloud's War. However, small scale raids and attacks by the Indians continued and the U.S. army in the Powder River Country continued to be on the defensive.
Visiting the Site
Montana Highway 313 runs between Hardin and Fort Smith. At Fort Smith it intersects with Rte 12, which goes north and crosses the lower after bay below Yellowtail Dam, to approach the farthest upriver boat launch site on the Bighorn River. From this intersection go 3.12 miles east, along Montana Highway 312, where there is an intersection between Montana Highway 313 and Co. Rd. 40A, (also known as Warman Loop) which is also the route that runs north to the Bighorn River Three Mile fishing access. Go north on Co. Rd. 40A, for 1.8 miles, which takes just you across (north) of the Bighorn Canal. There is an intersection with Co. Rd. 40A, and NE Warman Loup, which branches left and runs on the north bank of the Big Horn Canal. Between these two roads, to the left, is a triangular piece of land. About 124 feet out in this triangular piece of land is the marker for the Hayfield Fight. This is private land, but the public often visits the marker.
- Vaughn, J. W. Indian Fights: New Facts on Seven Encounter Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966, p. 109; Green, Jerome A. "The Hayfield Fight: A Reappraisal of a Neglected Action" Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Autumn 1972, p.40
- Green, Jerome A. "The Hayfield Fight: A Reappraisal of a Neglected Action" Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol 22, No 4 (Autumn 1972), pp. 35-36
- Hyde, George E. Red Cloud's Folk, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937, pp. 158-159
- Green, p. 38
- Green, p. 40
- Green, p. 40
- The Bozeman Trail: Historical Accounts of the Blazing of the Overland Routes, Volume II, by Grace Raymond Hebard, et al. - Participant report.
- National Park Service site for Hayfield Fight, which has an article on the battle.