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The Organization of the First Indian Expedition


 Native American Nations | Participant in the Civil War                   


Among the manifold requests put forward by the refugees, none was so insistent, none so dolefully sincere, as the one for means to return home. It is a mistake to suppose that the Indian, traditionally laconic and stoical, is without family affection and without that noblest of human sentiments, love of country. The United States government has, indeed, proceeded upon the supposition that he is destitute of emotions, natural to his more highly civilized white brother, but its files are full to overflowing with evidences to the contrary. Everywhere among them the investigator finds the exile's lament. The red man has been banished so often from familiar and greatly loved scenes that it is a wonder he has taken root anywhere and yet he has. Attachment to the places where the bones of his people lie is with him the most constant of experiences and his cry for those same sacred places is all the stronger and the more sorrowful because it has been persistently ignored by the white man.

The southern Indians had not been so very many years in the Indian Territory, most of them not more than the span of one generation, but Indian Territory was none the less home. If the refugees could only get there again, they were confident all would be well with them. In Kansas, they were hungry, afflicted with disease, and dying daily by the score.193 Once at home all the ills of the flesh would disappear and lost friends be recovered. The exodus had separated them cruelly from each other. There were family and tribal encampments within the one large encampment,194 it is true, but there were also widely isolated groups, scattered indiscriminately across two hundred miles of bleak and lonely prairie, and no amount of philanthropic effort on the part of the government agents could mitigate the misery arising there from or bring the groups together. The task had been early abandoned as, under the circumstances, next to impossible; but the refugees went on begging for its accomplishment, notwithstanding that they had neither the physical strength nor the means to render any assistance themselves. Among them the wail of the bereaved vied in tragic cadence with the sad inquiry for the missing.

When Dole arrived at Leavenworth the latter part of January, representatives of the loyal Indians interviewed him and received assurances, honest and well-meant at the time given, that an early return to Indian Territory would be made possible. Lane, likewise interviewed,195 was similarly encouraging and had every reason to be; for was not his Indian brigade in process of formation? Much cheered and even exhilarated in spirit, the Indians went away to endure and to wait. They had great confidence in Lane's power to accomplish; but, as the days and the weeks passed and he did not come, they grew tired of waiting. The waiting seemed so hopeless to them miserable, so endlessly long. Primitive as they were, they simply could not understand why the agents of a great government could not move more expeditiously. The political and military aspects of the undertaking, involved in their return home, were unknown to them and, if known, would have been uncomprehended. Then, too, the vacillation of the government puzzled them. They became suspicious; for they had become acquainted, through the experience of long years, with the white man's bad faith and they had nothing to go upon that would counteract the influence of earlier distrust. And so it happened, that, as the weary days passed and Lane's brigade did not materialize, every grievance that loomed up before them took the shape of a disappointed longing for home.

Colonel W. W. Phillips

So poignant was their grief at the continued delay that they despaired of ever getting the help promised and began to consider how they could contrive a return for themselves. And yet, quite independent of Lane's brigade, there had been more than one movement initiated in their behalf. The desire to recover lost ground in Indian Territory, under the pretext of restoring the fugitives, aroused the fighting instinct of many young men in southern Kansas and several irregular expeditions were projected.196 Needless to say they came to nothing. In point of fact, they never really developed, but died almost with the thought. There was no adequate equipment for them and the longer the delay, the more necessary became equipment; because after the Battle of Pea Ridge, Pike's brigade had been set free to operate, if it so willed, on the Indian Territory border.

Closely following upon the Federal success of March 6 to 8, came numerous changes and readjustments in the Missouri-Kansas commands; but they were not so much the result of that success as they were a part of the general reorganization that was taking place in the Federal service incident to the more efficient war administration of Secretary Stanton. By order of March 11, three military departments were arranged for, the Department of the Potomac under McClellan, that of the Mountain under Frémont, and that of the Mississippi under Halleck. The consolidation of Hunter's Department of Kansas with Halleck's Department of Missouri was thus provided for and had long been a consummation devoutly to be wished.197 Both were naturally parts of the same organic whole when regarded from a military point of view. Neither could be operated upon independently of the other. Moreover, both were infested by political vultures. In both, the army discipline was, in consequence, bad; that is, if it could be said to be in existence at all. If anything, Kansas was in a worse state than Missouri. Her condition, as far as the military forces were concerned, had not much improved since Hunter first took command and it was then about the worst that could possibly be imagined. Major Halpine's description198 of it, made by him in his capacity as assistant adjutant-general, officially to Halleck, is anything but flattering. Hunter was probably well rid of his job and Halleck, whom Lincoln much admired because he was "wholly for the service,"199 had asked for the entire command.200

Halleck's plans for remodeling the constituent elements of his department were made with a thorough comprehension of the difficulties confronting him. It is not surprising that they brought General Denver again to the fore. Hunter's troubles had been bred by local politics. That Halleck well knew; but he also knew that Indian relations were a source of perplexity and that there was no enemy actually in Kansas and no enemy worth considering that would threaten her, provided her own jay-hawking hordes could be suppressed. Her problems were chiefly administrative.201 For the work to be done, Denver seemed the fittest man available and, on the nineteenth, he, having previously been ordered to report to Halleck for duty,202 was assigned203 to the command of a newly-constituted District of Kansas, from which the troops,204 who were guarding the only real danger zone, the southeastern part of the state, were expressly excluded. The hydra-headed evil of the western world then asserted itself, the meddling, particularistic spoils system, with the result that Lane and Pomeroy, unceasingly vigilant whenever and wherever what they regarded as their preserves were likely to be encroached upon, went to President Lincoln and protested against the preferment of Denver.205 Lincoln weakly yielded and wired to Halleck to suspend the order for Denver's assignment to duty until further notice.206 Stanton, to whom Halleck applied207 for an explanation, deprecated208 the political interference of the Kansas senators and the influence it had had with the chief executive, but he, too, had to give way. So effective was the Lane-Pomeroy objection to Denver that even a temporary209 appointment of him, resorted210 to by Halleck because of the urgent need of some sort of a commander in Kansas, was deplored by the president.211 Denver was then sent to the place where his abilities and his experience would be better appreciated, to the southernmost part of the state, the hinterland of the whole Indian country.212 Official indecision and personal envy pursued him even there, however, and it was not long before he was called eastward.213 The man who succeeded him in command of the District of Kansas214 was one who proved to be his ranking officer215 and his rival, Brigadier-general S.D. Sturgis. Blunt succeeded him at Fort Scott.

The elimination of Kansas as a separate department marked the revival of interest in an Indian expedition. The cost of supporting so huge a body of refugees had really become a serious proposition and, as Colonel C. R. Jennison216 had once remarked, it would be economy to enlist them.217 Congress had provided that certain Indian annuity money might be diverted to their maintenance,218 but that fund was practically exhausted before the middle of March.219 As already observed, the refugees very much wished to assist in the recovery of Indian Territory.220 In fact they were determined to go south if the army went and their disappointment was likely to be most keen in the event of its and their not going.221 It was under circumstances such as these that Commissioner Dole recommended to Secretary Smith, March 13, 1862, that he

Procure an order from the War Department detailing two Regiment of Volunteers from Kansas to go with the Indians to their homes and to remain there for their protection as long (as) may be necessary, also to furnish two thousand stand of arms and ammunition to be placed in the hands of the loyal Indians.
Dole's unmistakable earnestness carried the day. Within less than a week there had been promised222 him all that he had asked for and more, an expeditionary force of two white regiments and two223 thousand Indians, appropriately armed. To expedite matters and to obviate any difficulties that might otherwise beset the carrying out of the plan, a semi-confidential agent, on detail from the Indian Office, was sent west with despatches224 to Halleck and with an order225 from the Ordnance Department for the delivery, at Fort Leavenworth, of the requisite arms. The messenger was Judge James Steele, who, upon reaching St. Louis, had already discouraging news to report to Dole. He had interviewed Halleck and had found him in anything but a helpful mood, notwithstanding that he must, by that time, have received and reflected upon the following communication from the War Department:

War Department,

Washington City, D. C, March 19, 1862.
Maj. Gen.H.W. Halleck,

Commanding the Department of Mississippi:

General: It is the desire of the President, on the application of the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, that you should detail two regiments to act in the Indian country, with a view to open the way for the friendly Indians who are now refugees in Southern Kansas to return to their homes and to protect them there. Five thousand friendly Indians will also be armed to aid in their own protection, and you will please furnish them with necessary subsistence.

Please report your action in the premises to this Department. Prompt action is necessary.

By order of the Secretary of War:

L. THOMAS, Adjutant-General226

Steele inferred from what passed at the interview with Halleck that the commanding general was decidedly opposed to arming Indians. Steele found him also non-committal as to when the auxiliary force would be available.227 Dole's letter, with its seeming dictation as to the choice of a commander for the expedition, may not have been to Halleck's liking. He was himself at the moment most interested in the suppression of guerrillas and jayhawkers, against whom sentence of outlawry had just been passed. As it happened, that was the work in which Dole's nominee, Colonel Robert B. Mitchell,228 was to render such signal service229 and, anticipating as much, Halleck may have objected to his being thought of for other things. Furthermore, Dole had no right to so much as cast a doubt upon Halleck's own ability to select a proper commander.

A little perplexed but not at all daunted by Halleck's lack of cordiality, Steele proceeded on his journey and, arriving at Leavenworth, presented his credentials to Captain McNutt, who was in charge of the arsenal. Four hundred Indian rifles were at hand, ready for him, and others expected.230 What to do next, was the question? Should he go on to Leroy and trust to the auxiliary force's showing up in season or wait for it? The principal part of his mission was yet to be executed. The Indians had to be enrolled and everything got in train for their expedition southward. Their homes once recovered, they were to be left in such shape as to be able to "protect and defend themselves."231

Halleck's preoccupation, prejudice, or whatever it was that prevented him from giving any satisfaction to Steele soon yielded, as all things sooner or later must, to necessity; but not to the extent of sanctioning the employment of Indians in warfare except as against other "Indians or in defense of their own territory and homes." The Pea Ridge atrocities were probably still fresh in his mind. On the fifth of April, he instructed232 General Denver with a view to advancing, at last, the organization of the Indian expedition and Denver, Coffin, and Steele forthwith exerted all their energies in cooperating effort233. Some time was spent in inspecting arms234 but, on the eighth, enough for two thousand Indians went forward in the direction of Leroy and Humboldt235 and on the sixteenth were delivered to the superintendent236. Coffin surmised that new complications would arise as soon as the distribution began; for all the Indians, whether they intended to enlist or not, would try to secure guns. Nothing had yet been said about their pay and nothing heard of an auxiliary force237. Again the question was, what, in the event of its not appearing, should the Indian agents do?238

The time was propitious for starting the expedition; for not the shadow of an enemy had been lately seen in the West, unless count be taken of Indians returning home or small roving bands of possible marauders that the people of all parties detested239. But the order for the supplanting of Denver by Sturgis had already been issued, April sixth240, and Sturgis's policy was not yet known. It soon revealed itself, however, and was hostile to the whole project that Dole had set his heart upon. Apparently that project, the moment it had been taken up by Denver, had ceased to have any interest for Lane on the score of its merits and had become identified with the Robinson faction in Kansas politics. At any rate, it was the anti-Robinson press that saw occasion for rejoicing in the complete removal of Denver from the scene, an event which soon took place241.

The relieving of Denver from the command of the District of Kansas inaugurated242 what contemporaries described as "Sturgis' military despotism,"243 in amplification of which it is enough to say that it attempted the utter confounding, if not the annihilation, of the Indian Expedition, a truly noble undertaking to be sure, considering how much was hoped for from that expedition, how much of benefit and measure of justice to a helpless, homeless, impoverished people and considering, also, how much of time and thought and energy, not to mention money, had already been expended upon it.

Sturgis's policy with reference to the Indian Expedition was initiated by an order244, of April 25, which gained circulation as purporting to be in conformity with instructions from the headquarters of the Department of the Mississippi, although in itself emanating from those of the District of Kansas. It put a summary stop to the enlistment of Indians and threatened with arrest anyone who should disobey its mandate. Superintendent Coffin, in his inimitable illiteracy, at once entered protest245 against it and coolly informed Sturgis that, in enrolling Indians for service, he was acting under the authority, not of the War, but of the Interior Department. At the same sitting, he applied to Commissioner Dole for new instructions246.

193: And yet they did have their amusements. Their days of exile were not filled altogether with bitterness. Coffin, in a letter to the Daily Conservative, published April 16, 1862, gives, besides a rather gruesome account of their diseases, some interesting details of their camp life.
194: On their division into tribal encampments, see Kile to Dole, April 10, 1862 [Indian Office General Files, Southern Superintendency, 1859-1862, K 119 of 1862].
195: They had their interview with Lane at the Planters' House while they were awaiting the arrival of Dole. Opoeth-le-yo-ho-la (Crazy Dog) and a Seminole chief, Aluktustenuke (Major Potatoes) were among them [Daily Conservative, January 28, February 8, 1862].
196: In addition to those referred to in documents already cited, the one, projected by Coffin's son and a Captain Brooks, is noteworthy. It is described in a letter from Coffin to Dole, March 24, 1862.
197: Halleck, however, had not desired the inclusion of Kansas in the contemplated new department because he thought that state had only a remote connection with present operations.
198: Official Records, vol. viii, 615-617.
199: Thayer, Life and Letters of John Hay, vol. i, 127-128.
200: Badeau, Military History of U.S. Grant, vol. i, 53, footnote.
201: Halleck to Stanton, March 28, 1862, Official Records, vol. viii, 647-648.
202: Ibid., 612
203: Ibid., 832.
204: Those troops, about five thousand, were left under the command of George W. Deitzler, colonel of the First Kansas (ibid., 614), a man who had become prominent before the war in connection with the Sharpe's rifles episode (Spring, Kansas, 60) and whose appointment as an Indian agent, early in 1861, had been successfully opposed by Lane (Robinson, Kansas Conflict, 458). There will be other occasions to refer to him in this narrative. He is believed to have held the secret that induced Lane to commit suicide in 1866 [ibid., 457-460].
205: Stanton to Halleck, March 26, 1862 [Official Records, vol. liii, supplement, 516].
206: Lincoln to Halleck, March 21, 1862, Official Records, vol. liii, supplement, 516.
207: Halleck to Stanton, March 26, 1862, ibid.
208: "Deprecated" is, perhaps, too mild a word to describe Stanton's feeling in the matter. Adjutant-general Hitchcock is authority for the statement that Stanton threatened "to leave the office" should the "enforcement" of any such order, meaning the non-assignment of Denver and the appointment of a man named Davis [Davies?], believed by Robinson to be a relative of Lane [Kansas Conflict, 446], be attempted [Hitchcock to Halleck, March 22, 1862, Official Records, vol. viii, 832-833].
209: Ibid., vol. liii, supplement, 519.
210: Ibid., vol. viii, 647-648.
211: Ibid., vol. liii, supplement, 519.
212: Concerning the work, mapped out for Denver, see Halleck to Sturgis, April 6, 1862 [Official Records, vol. viii, 668] and Halleck to Stanton, April 7, 1862 [ibid., 672].
213: May 14, 1862 [ibid., vol. iii, part i, supplement, 249].
214: Ibid., vol. liii, supplement, 520.
215: "It is stated that the commission of Gen. Sturgis is dated April 10 and that of Gen. Denver Aug. 14 and consequently Gen. Sturgis is the ranking officer in this military District."—Daily Conservative, April 10, 1862.
217: Daily Conservative, February 18, 1862.
216: Jennison, so says the Daily Conservative, March 25, 1862, had been ordered with the First Cavalry to repair to Humboldt at the time the Indian Expedition was under consideration the first of the year and was brevetted acting brigadier for the purpose of furthering Dole's intentions.
218: Congressional Globe, 37th congress, second session, part i, 835, 878.
219: Dole to Smith, March 13, 1862 [Indian Office Report Book, no. 12, 331-332].
220: Coffin to Dole, March 3, 1862 [ibid., Consolidated Files, Southern Superintendency, C 1544 of 1862; Letters Registered, no. 58].
221: Daily Conservative, March 5, 1862.
222: Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Report, 1862, 148.
223: Two thousand was most certainly the number, although the communication from the War Department gives it as five.
224: Dole to Halleck, March 21, 1862 [Indian Office Letter Book, no. 67, 516-517].
225: Ibid., 517-518.
226: Official Records, vol. viii, 624-625.
227: Steele to Dole, March 27, 1862 [Indian Office General Files, Southern Superintendence, 1859-1862, S 537 of 1862].
228: Robert B. Mitchell was colonel, first of the Second Kansas Infantry, then of the Second Kansas Cavalry. He raised the former, in answer to President Lincoln's first call, 1861 [Crawford, Kansas in the Sixties, 20], chiefly in Linn County, and the latter in 1862.
229: Connelley, Quantrilt and the Border Wars, 236 ff.
230: Steele to Dole, March 26, 1862 [Indian Office General Files, Southern Superintendence, 1859-1862].
231: Dole to Steele, March 21, 1862, Indian Office Letter Book, no. 67, 508-509.
232: Official Records, vol. viii, 665.
233: Dole's name might well be added to this list; for he had never lost his interest or relaxed his efforts. On the fifth of April, he communicated to Secretary Smith the intelligence that he had issued instructions to "the officers appointed to command the two Regiments of Indians to be raised as Home Guard to report at Fort Leavenworth to be mustered into service ... "—Indian Office Report Book, no. 12, 357.
234: Steele to Dole, April 7, 1862 [ibid., General Files, Southern Superintendency, 1859-1862, S 538 of 1862].
235: Denver to Halleck, April 8, 1862 [Official Records, vol. viii, 679].
236: Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Report, 1862, 148.
237: "... I fear we shall have trouble in regard to the guns as many will take guns that will not go and whether they will give up their arms is doubtful. I had a long talk with Opothly-Oholo on that point and told  him you could only get 2000 guns and you wanted every one to go and an Indian with it and that if any of them got guns that did not go they must give up their guns to those that would go but I know enough of the Indian character to know that it will be next thing to an impossibility to get a gun away from one when he once gets it and I shall put off the distribution of the guns till the last moment and it would be best to send them on a day or two before being distributed but that would make them mad and they would not go at all and how we are to know how many to look out for from others than those we have here I am not able to see but we will do all that we can but you may look out for difficulty in the matter they all seem anxious now to go and make no objections as yet nor have they said anything about their pay but as they were told before when we expect them to go into the Hunter Lane expedition that they would get the same pay as white troops and set off a part of it for their families it was so indelibly impressed upon their minds that I fear we will have a blow up on that score when it comes up we hear nothing yet of any troops being ordered to this service and I very much fear they will put off the matter so long that there will be no crop raised this season ... the mortality amongst them is great more since warm weather has set in than during the cold weather they foolishly physic themselves nearly to death danc [dance] all night and then jump into the river just at daylight to make themselves bullet proof they have followed this up now every night for over two weeks and it has no doubt caused many deaths Long Tiger the Uchee Chief and one of the best amongst them died to-day—yesterday we had 7 deaths and there will not be less to-day"—Coffin to Dole, April 7, 1862, Indian Office General Files, Southern Superintendency, 1859-1862, C 1578 of 1862.
238: This was the query put to Dole by Steele in a letter of the thirteenth of April, which acknowledged Dole's of the third and ventured the opinion that Postmaster-general Blair "must be imitating General McClellan and practicing strategy with the mails." Steele further remarked, "Gen'l Denver, Maj. Wright and I are in the dark as to the plans of the Indian Expedition. Gen. Denver thinks I should proceed at once to Leroy without waiting for your instructions. "Ibid., S 539 of 1862.
239: Curtis to Halleck, April 5, 1862 [Official Records, vol. viii, 662].
240: Sturgis, upon the receipt of orders of this date, assumed command of the District of Kansas; but Denver was not called east until the fourteenth of May. On the twenty-first of April, it was still expected that he would lead an expedition "down the borders of Arkansas into the Indian country." [KELTON to Curtis, April 21, 1862, ibid., vol. xiii, 364].
241: The Daily Conservative, for instance, rejoiced over this telegram from Sidney Clark of May 2, which gave advanced information of Denver's approaching departure: "Conservative: The Department of Kansas is reinstated. Gen. Blunt takes command. Denver reports to Halleck; Sturgis here." The newspaper comment was, "We firmly believe that a prolongation of the Denver-Sturgis political generalship, aided as it was by the corrupt Governor of this State, would have led to a revolution in Kansas ..."—Daily Conservative, May 6, 1862.
242: General Sturgis assumed command, April 10, 1862 [Official Records, vol. viii, 683], and Denver took temporary charge at Fort Scott [ibid., 668].
243: Quoted from the Daily Conservative of May 20; but not with the idea of subscribing thereby to any verdict that would bear the implication that all of Sturgis's measures were arbitrary and wrong. Something strenuous was needed in Kansas. The arrest of Jennison and of Hoyt [ibid., April 19, 23, 1862] because of their too radical anti-slavery actions was justifiable. Jennison had disorganized his regiment in a shameful manner [ibid., June 3, 1862].
244: Official Records, vol. xiii, 365.

Le Roy Coffee County, Kansas, April 29th 1862.
Brig. Genl S.D. Sturgis, Fort Leavenworth Kansas

Dear Sir: A Special Messenger arrived here last night from Fort Leavenworth with your orders No. 8 and contents noted. I would most respectfully inform you that I am acting under the control and directions of the Interior and not of the War Department. I have been endeavoring to the best of my humble ability to carry out the instructions and wishes of that Department, all of which I hope will meet your approbation.

Your Messenger reports himself strapped, that no funds were furnished him to pay his expenses, that he had to beg his way down here. I have paid his bill here and furnished him with five dollars to pay his way back. Very respectfully your Obedient Servant

W.G. COFFIN, Sup't. of Indian Affairs, Southern Superintendency. [Indian Office Special Files, no. 201, Southern Superintendency, C 1612 of 1862].


Leroy Coffey Co., Kansas, April 29th, 1862.

SIR: Enclosed please find a communication from Brigadier General Sturgis in regard to the organizing of the Indians and my reply to the same, the officers are here, or at least four of them. Col Furnace Agutant Elithurp Lieutenant Wattles and Agutant Dole I need scarcely say to you that we shall continue to act under your Instructions til further orders, the Officers above alluded to have been untiring in their efforts to get acquainted with and get the permanent organization of the Indians under way and have made a fine impression upon them, and I should very much regret any failure to carry out the program as they have been allready so often disappointed that they have become suspicious and it all has a tendency to lessen their confidence in us and to greatly increase our difficulties All of which is most Respectfully Submitted by your obedient Servant

W.G. COFFIN, Sup't of Indian Affairs. [Indian Office Special Files, no. 201, Southern Superintendency, C 1612 of 1862].

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The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War, 1919

Participant in the Civil War


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