Battle of Mud Springs
|Battle of Mud Springs|
|Part of the Colorado War|
Monument at Mud Springs Pony Express station site
|United States of America||Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, and Arapaho tribes|
|Commanders and leaders|
|William O. Collins|
|230 soldiers||500-1,000 warriors|
|Casualties and losses|
|1 dead, 8 wounded||few|
The Battle of Mud Springs took place February 4–6, 1865 in Nebraska between the U.S. army and warriors of the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. The battle was inconclusive although the Indians succeeded in capturing some Army horses and a herd of several hundred cattle. Mud Springs is located eight miles northwest of Dalton, Nebraska and is today a National Historic Site.
After the Sand Creek Massacre in November 1864 in Colorado, the Plains Indians of the three tribes in that region decided to move northward to the more-isolated Powder River Country of Wyoming. En route they sought revenge for Sand Creek, spending most of the month of January raiding along the South Platte River in Colorado and burning the settlement of Julesburg on February 2. On February 3, they burned a telegraph station on Lodgepole Creek and on February 4 an advance party of Sioux warriors appeared at Mud Springs, a stagecoach station with a telegraph. Only 14 men, including 9 soldiers, were behind the sod and log walls of the station.
Both Indians and soldiers appear to have been well-armed. Bullets from 21 different types of firearms have been found at the battle site. The most common arm of both sides may have been the Spencer carbine. The Indians also used bows and arrows. The Indians had abundant food and other supplies obtained from their raids in the South Platte Valley and thus were enabled to remain together in a large group for an extended period of time.
The advance party of Indians stole 18 horses and a large herd of cattle. The telegraph operator cabled for help to Fort Mitchell, 55 miles west, and Fort Laramie 105 miles west. At daybreak, next morning, after an all-night ride, Lt. William Ellsworth and 36 men reached Mud Springs from Fort Mitchell to reinforce the station. A large number of Indians, described as more than one thousand, arrived shortly thereafter. Ellsworth sent 16 men to occupy a bluff and prevent Indians from getting too close to the station, but they were attacked by 500 Indians and retreated to the station, suffering one man killed and one wounded. In the afternoon, the soldiers in the station opened the corrals and let their horses run loose. This had the desired effect of dispersing the Indians surrounding the station as they attempted to capture the animals. By that time, also, the Indians had tired of exchanging fire with the soldiers inside the thick-walled station and retired to their encampment about 10 miles east.
At 2 a.m. February 6, Colonel William O. Collins with a 25 man escort arrived at Mud Springs and early the next morning the remainder of his command of about 120 men arrived from Fort Laramie, bringing the total in the station up to 170 men. His soldiers were exhausted after a two-day march with little sleep. Many had been frostbitten in the bitter cold. The main body of Indian warriors returned to Mud Springs soon afterward that morning. Collins estimated the Indian warriors numbered 500 to 1,000. Collins secured his horses in a makeshift corral formed by four wagons, but about two hundred Indians began showering the horses and men in the corral with arrows from 75 yards away, killing and wounding horses and men. Collins sent out two groups of soldiers to drive the Indians out of bow-and-arrow range and capture and hold the higher ground. With the advance of the soldiers the Indians slowly withdrew and departed the battlefield. That night, 50 additional soldiers under Lt. William Brown arrived at Mud Springs with a 12-pounder mountain howitzer. Collins prepared to take the offensive the next day, February 7, but the Indian army did not return to Mud Springs.
The large Indian encampment – composed possibly of 4,000 to 5,000 men, women, and children – moved leisurely to the North Platte River on February 6. They crossed the frozen river and camped among bluffs about five miles north of the river. Joined by the warriors returning from the battle, the Indians planned to remain there for four days to rest their horses, not anticipating that the outnumbered soldiers would follow them.
Colonel Collins, however, left a garrison of soldiers at Mud Springs and picked up the Indian trail with 185 men. He found an abandoned camp littered with the spoils of their plunder – codfish, flour, and empty cans of oysters, meat, and fruit – and followed their trail to the North Platte. There, he found the Indians and re-engaged them in the Battle of Rush Creek. One soldier would comment that catching the Indians “was an easy enough matter, but we had a terribly hard time letting them go.”
- McDermott, John D. “’We had a terribly hard time letting them go:’ The Battles of Mud Springs and Rush Creek, February 1865.” Nebraska History Vol. 77 (1996, p. 79
- Bleed, Peter and Scott, Douglas D. "Archeological Interpretation of the Frontier Battle at Mud Springs, Nebraska." Great Plains Research' 19 (Spring 2009), p. 18
- McDermott, pp. 80-81; Hyde, George E. Life of George Bent. Norman: U of OK Press, 1968, pp. 188-189
- Robrock, David P. "The Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry on the Central Plains, 1862-1866." Arizona and the West, Vol 25, No. 1 (Spring 1983), p. 37-38
- McDermott, pp. 81-82
- McDermott, pp. 81-82; Hyde, p. 190
- Hyde, p. 190
- Bleed and Scott, p. 16
- McDermott, p. 82; Robrock, David p. “The Seventh Iowa Cavalry.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol.39, No. 2 (Spring 1989), p. 15