Pawnee scouts, circa 1868 to 1871, by William Henry Jackson.
|Active||1864 - 1877|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Branch||United States Army|
|Garrison/HQ||Fort Kearny, Nebraska
Fort D.A. Russell, Wyoming
|Engagements||Great Sioux War|
Pawnee Scouts were part of the United States Army in the latter half of the 19th century. Like other groups of Indian scouts, Pawnee warriors were recruited in large numbers to fight on the Northern Plains in various conflicts against hostile native Americans. Because the Pawnee people were old enemies of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, instead of fighting against Westward expansion, they served with the army for fourteen years between 1864 and 1877, earning a reputation as being a well trained unit, especially in tracking and reconnaissance.
Powder River War
The Pawnee tribe originally came from an area in Nebraska around the Republican, Platte and Loup Rivers. They were known for being a warrior culture, skilled in raiding enemy villages for horses. Prior to December 1864, when the scouts were established, Pawnee braves constantly waged war against their neighbors so when General Samuel Curtis began recruiting for scouts to help him in an expedition against hostiles, he had no trouble in convincing seventy Pawnees to join in. Shortly thereafter, First Lieutenant Frank North was authorized to recruit 100 more Pawnees. North would eventually be put in command of the scouts and promoted to captain and then major, a position he held until the final disbandment of the unit in 1877. The first Pawnee scouts were posted at Fort Kearny, Nebraska and later units served at Fort D.A. Russell, Wyoming and at Sydney Barracks. The Pawnee scouts were very fond of Major North, due to his bravery in battle and a pair of "miraculous" incidents in 1865. From May to November, the Pawnee scouts were in General Patrick E. Connor's Powder River War and first saw action on August 22. Major North was out tracking some retreating hostiles with about forty-five of his scouts when he discovered an enemy camp. After two days of searching, it was 2:00 am when the camp was found so North had his men dismount and rest, in order to attack at first light. During the following skirmish, all of the twenty-seven hostiles were killed while Major North and his Pawnee's were unhurt. In a second incident, North and his men were chasing some Arapahos on horseback when the major became separated from his unit by about a mile. The retreating hostiles then turned around to engage North and wounded his horse, so he used the animal as a "breastwork" to fight off the attackers.
Both episodes helped create an idea of North among the Pawnee as having supernatural powers and being invulnerable to harm. The scouts served distinctively in the Battle of the Tongue River on August 29. In the fight, about 400 Americans and Pawnees captured an Arapaho village containing some 500 warriors, led by Medicine Man. The hostiles counterattacked but were repulsed by musketry and howitzer fire. About sixty natives were killed and eighteen women and children were captured. Additionally, hundreds of Arapaho horses and ponies were destroyed. Nineteen Americans and Pawnees were killed and twenty-nine others received wounds.
In the spring of 1866, after the expedition into the Powder River Country, the Pawnee scouts were disbanded but only temporarily for in March 1867 Major North was authorized to enlist four fifty-man companies of scouts for protecting the Union Pacific Railroad, then under construction. During this time, Major North was accompanied by his brother, Luther, who was in command of one of the scout companies. The "Pawnee Battallion", as it was called, was active in the Comanche War, fighting against Chief Turkey Leg and his band of Northern Cheyenne. A "severe" engagement took place near Plum Creek Station, Nebraska, on August 22, in which Major North and forty-two of the scouts engaged 150 Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne warriors who had destroyed a train on August 6, killing seven settlers and taking a large amount of private property. The Pawnee scouts were victorious again, they killed "many", retrieved the stolen property, and captured Turkey Leg's wife and child. The chief's family was later exchanged for three captured American girls and two boys who were held by Turkey Leg for a long time. In the autumn of 1867 the battalion was mustered out but in the spring of 1868 North reorganized the unit to continue protecting the Union Pacific. In 1869, North and fifty scouts guided Colonel Eugene Asa Carr's Republican River Expedition through Colorado and fought in the Battle of Summit Springs on July 11. The battle put approximately 300 Americans and Pawnees up against 450 to 900 encamped Arapaho, Sioux and Cheyenne braves under the command of Chief Tall Bull. Carr positioned his forces so as to attack the camp simultaneously from three sides. The maneuver worked and in the end about thirty-five native men, women and children were killed, including Tall Bull, while only one American was wounded. The scouts were responsible for the deaths of at least seven women and children. Some 800 heads of captured livestock was also retaken.
Great Sioux War
In 1870 the Pawnee scouts were still working to protect the railroad but eventually they were disbanded. However, with the outbreak of the Great Sioux War in 1876, Major North was ordered by General Philip Sheridan to travel to Indian Territory, where the Pawnee now lived, to organize another company for General George Crook's Little Bighorn Campaign. North found that the Pawnees living on the reservation were very poor and all of the males were eager to enlist. North recruited 100 of the Pawnees and headed back north, to Fort Robinson, Nebraska where the Sioux chiefs Sitting Bull and Red Cloud were active in fighting the army. Major North and his men arrived at the fort on October 22 and immediately thereafter began a march to the camp of Chief Red Cloud with a regiment of cavalry. On the following morning, North's command advanced on the camp and took it without a shot fired, capturing Red Cloud and over 700 ponies which were later sold by the Pawnee. The chief and his band were then marched to Fort Robinson and imprisoned there until the end of the war in 1877. In November, 1876, General McKenzie led seventy Pawnee scouts and 800 cavalrymen into the Big Horn Mountains to attack a "well concealed" Cheyenne camp. On the day of the battle, the hostiles were exhausted from celebrating the night before so when General McKenzie launched his attack most fled, leaving their provisions and lodges to be piled up and burnt by the soldiers. Some 650 ponies were also captured and over forty natives died from exposure of starvation in the following weeks. The battle left the Cheyenne destitute so they journeyed to the camp of Chief Crazy Horse who denied them aid because they had been "outwitted and surprised" by the army.
With nowhere to go, the Cheyennes walked to Fort Robinson and surrendered. Due to General Crook's winter campaigning, the remaining hostiles under Sitting Bull were not able to hunt for buffalo so by the spring of 1877 they surrendered at Fort Robinson as well. Now that the war was over, the Pawnee scouts were disbanded for good on May 1, 1877 and returned to the Indian Territory. Major North retired from his military life the same year, General Crook wrote; "I think it only just and appropriate to thank you for your excellent behavior during the time of your stay in the Military service under my command, and to say that the soldier-like conduct and discipline of the Pawnee Scouts is the most eloquent testimony that could be adduced to prove your fitness for the position you have held as their Commanding Officer."
- Sheldon's History and Stories of Nebraska - Major Frank North and the Pawnee Scouts
- Major Frank J. North of Pawnee Scouts - Obituary
- Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites & Trails - Connor Battlefield Historic Site
- The Connor Battle
- McDermott, pg. 112
- Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska - Official Roster - Part 15
- Fort Kearny's Unconventional Army Units
- Michno, pg. 207-209
- Grinnell, pg. 314-315
- Grinnell, George Bird (1915). The Fighting Cheyennes. University of Oklahoma Press.
- Michno, Gregory F. (2003). Encyclopedia of Indian Wars: Western Battles and Skirmishes, 1850-1890. Mountain Press Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87842-468-7.
- McDermott, John Dishon (2003). Circle of Fire: The Indian War of 1865. Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-0061-0.