Battle of Four Lakes
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August 27th. Today we left the river. We had reveille at half-past three in the morning, and marched at five. We made fifteen miles, and encamped on the Pelouze River.
August 28. We made but five miles today, encamping on Cheranna creek, where we found plenty of wood, fine grass and water. We are all on the alert, as any hour may find us in face of the enemy.
What the programme of the campaign is, none of us know. We suppose, indeed, that our commander can have no definite plan, as we are entering a country almost entirely unknown to us, but he will have to be guided by circumstances. An Indian war is a chapter of accidents. The camp talk is, that we have stores for only forty days, during which time we must find and beat the enemy.
August 29th. Marched at six o’clock this morning, and made twenty miles, encamping on Cottonwood creek. The country hitherto has been rocky and mountainous, but to-day it became more level, and is thickly sprinkled with timber. It has however been hard marching for the men, the water being very scarce and poor when found. This evening we came in sight of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, and beyond them had a faint view of the Rocky Mountains.
August 30th. Left camp at six o’clock, and marched over a rocky, though for the most part level country. Water was found every five or six miles, but not good.
In three places where we halted for water, we saw the remains of Indian lodges. We made eighteen miles, to Camp Pedrigal.
To-day we first saw the Indians in any force. We had just got into camp when two of the Nez Percé rode in, announcing that a large body of Spokans were approaching. The dragoons at once saddled their horses and held them in readiness to mount at any moment. About half an hour afterwards shots were heard exchanged between the enemy and our advanced pickets. Two companies of dragoons were at once sent out, followed by the howitzer battery, two companies of artillery, and two of infantry. The rest of the command was left to guard the camp. We found however that the Indians had retreated before the dragoons, who followed them for some distance with-out being able to reach them. It was evidently a recon-naissance of scouts belonging to some large force in the neighborhood.
This afternoon two men of the artillery died from eating poisonous roots.
August 31st. We left camp at eight o’clock, and marched eighteen miles through a rather level country. Most of our road lay through a cedar wood. On our right were hills running parallel to the wood, and beyond was a rolling country. We had not been out long when hostile Indians appeared on the hills. The Nez Percé rode in and reported to us, when Colonel Wright ordered the column to halt, the pack train to close up in our rear, and two companies of dragoons to deploy towards the enemy. In the mean time the Nez Percé had exchanged shots with them. They retreated as the dragoons approached them. In this way they accompanied us during the whole day, keeping at all times some distance beyond gun-shot. As we afterwards found, these small bodies were sent out to decoy our troops on and to deceive them as to the numbers of the enemy. They had chosen their ground ahead, in a strong position for attack, where the trail passes through a defile; and there they were awaiting the troops with their whole force.
Just before getting into camp, the hostile Indians rode up near our column, set fire to the grass, and fired upon our rear guard. Their object was to make an attack under cover of the smoke, but the grass was too green to burn freely, and the maneuvers of the troops at once defeated their intentions. As soon as the attack was made, Captain Keyes ordered me forward to report the fact to Colonel Wright, who, I found, had got into camp about half a mile in advance. Captain Keyes then ordered Captain Winder’s company of rifles to deploy across the rear of the column, at right angles to Lieutenant Ihrie s deployed on the right and Captain Hardie’s on the left, and parallel to the column, thus forming a rectangle about the train. The Indians retreated after firing, and took up their position on the hills on the right, overlooking our camp,” where they remained until dark. We knew that their main body could not be far distant. The prompt movements of the troops on this occasion showed that they were prepared for any emergency.
We are now about twenty miles from Spokan River, and it is the intention of Colonel Wright to remain for a few days at this camp to allow the men and animals to recruit.
September 1st. This morning, at daylight, we found the Indians, increased in number, still posted on the hills over-looking us. Their manner was defiant and insolent, and they seemed to be inviting an attack. At eight o’clock orders were issued to have the artillery battalion in readiness, as it might be called out at any moment. Shortly after, the dragoons, four companies of artillery, the howitzer battery under Lieutenant White, and the two companies of rifles, were ordered out to drive the Indians from the hill and engage the main body, which we ascertained was concentrated beyond it. They were formed into two columns, one of dragoons, numbering one hundred, ‘the other of artillery and infantry, about two hundred and twenty strong.
One company of artillery under Lieutenants Gibson and Dandy, a detachment of dragoons, and the guard, consisting of about fifty men, under Lieutenant Lyon, officer of the guard, all under command of Captain Hardie, the field officer of the day, were left to defend the camp. As we did not know the strength of the enemy, and had four hundred mules and extensive stores, it became necessary to leave this force to guard the camp, lest it should be attacked in the absence of the main body.
After advancing about a mile and a half we reached the hill and prepared to dislodge the enemy from it. Major Grier, with the dragoons, marched to the left, while the party of our Nez Percé, under the direction of Lieutenant Mullan, wound round the hill and ascended at the right. The main column came next, with Colonel Wright and staff at its head, followed by Captain Keyes, commanding the artillery, the third artillery, the rifles, and the howitzer battery.
As soon as the dragoons reached the top of the hill, they dismounted, one half holding the horses and the others acting as skirmishers. After exchanging a volley with the Indians, they drove them off the hill and held it until the foot soldiers arrived. On our way up, Colonel Wright received a message from Major Grier, stating that the Indians were collected in large numbers, (about five hundred it was thought,) at the foot of the hill, apparently prepared to fight. Colonel Wright immediately advanced the battalion rapidly forward, ordering Captain Ord’s company to the left to be deployed as skirmishers.
My place, as adjutant of the artillery battalion was, of course, with Captain Keyes. We rode to the top of the hill, when the whole scene lay before us like a splendid panorama. Below us lay “four lakes” a large one at the foot of the barren hill on which we were, and just beyond it three smaller ones, surrounded by rugged rocks, and almost entirely fringed with pines. Between these lakes, and beyond them to the northwest, stretched out a plain for miles, terminated by bare grassy hills, one succeeding another as far as the eye could reach. In the far distance was dimly seen a line of mountains covered with the black pine.
On the plain below us we saw the enemy. Every spot seemed alive with the wild warriors we had come so far to meet. They were in the pines on the edge of the lakes, in the ravines and gullies, on the opposite hillsides, and swarming over the plain. They seemed to cover the country for some two miles. Mounted on their fleet, hardy horses, the crowd swayed back and forth, brandishing their weapons, shouting their war cries, and keeping up a song of defiance. Most of them were armed with Hudson Bay muskets, while others had bows and arrows and long lances. They were in all the bravery of their war array, gaudily painted and decorated with their wild trappings. Their plumes fluttered above them, while below skins and trinkets and all kinds of fantastic embellishments flaunted in the sunshine. Their horses, too, were arrayed in the most glaring finery. Some were even painted,’ and with colors to form the greatest contrast; the white being smeared with crimson in fantastic figures, and the dark colored streaked with white clay. Beads and fringes of gaudy colors were hanging from their bridles, while the plumes of eagles’ feathers, interwoven with the mane and tail, fluttered as the breeze swept over them, and completed their wild and fantastic appearance.
“By heavens! it was a glorious sight to see
The gay array of their wild chivalry.”
But we had no time for mere admiration, for other work was in hand. Orders were at once issued for the artillery and infantry to be deployed as skirmishers and advance down the hill, driving the Indians before them from their coverts, until they reached the plain where the dragoons could act against them. At the same time Lieutenant White, with the howitzer battery, supported by Company A., under Lieutenant Tyler, and the rifles, was sent to the right to drive them out of the woods. The latter met with a vigorous resistance, but a few discharges of the howitzer, with their spirited attack, soon dislodged the enemy, and compelled them to take refuge on the hills.
In the meanwhile the companies moved down the hill with all the precision of a parade; and as we rode along the line, it was pleasant to see the enthusiasm of the men to get within reach of the enemy. As soon as they were within some six hundred yards, they opened their fire and delivered it steadily as they advanced. Our soldiers aimed regularly, though it was no easy task to hit their shifting marks. The Indians acted as skirmishers, advancing rap-idly and delivering their fire, and then retreating again with a quickness and irregularity which rendered it difficult to reach them. They were wheeling and dashing about, always on the run, apparently each fighting on his own account.
But minnie balls and long range rifles were things with which now for the first time they were to be made acquainted. As the line advanced, first we saw one Indian reel in his saddle and fall, then, two or three, then, half a dozen. Then some horses would dash madly forward, showing that the balls were telling upon them. The instant, however, that the “braves” fell, they were seized by their companions and dragged to the rear, to be borne off. We saw one Indian leading off a horse with two of his dead companions tied on it.
But in a few minutes, as the line drew nearer, the fire became too heavy, and the whole array broke and fled towards the plain. This was the chance for which the dragoons had been impatiently waiting. As the line advanced they had followed on behind it, leading their horses. Now the order was given to mount, and they rode through the company intervals to the front In an instant was heard the voice of Major Grier ringing over the plain, as he shouted “Charge the rascals 1” and on the dragoons went at headlong speed. Taylor’s and Gaston’s companies were there, burning for revenge, and soon they were on them. We saw the flash of their sabers as they cut them down. Lieutenant Davidson shot one warrior from his saddle as they charged up, and Lieutenant Gregg clove the skull of another. Yells and shrieks and uplifted hands were of no avail, as they rode over them. A number were left dead upon the ground, when once more the crowd broke and dashed forward to the hills. It was a race for life, as the flying warriors streamed out of the glens and ravines and over the open plain, and took refuge in the clumps of woods or on the rising ground.
Here they were secure from the dragoons. Had the latter been well mounted, they would have made a terrible slaughter. But their horses were too much worn out to allow them to reach the main body. For twenty-eight days they had been on their march, their horses saddled all day and engaged in constant scouting, at night picketed, with only a little grass after camping. They were obliged therefore to halt when they reached the hill-side, their horses being entirely blown.
Then the line of foot once more passed them and advanced, renewing their fire, and driving the Indians over the hills for about two miles. As we ascended, the men were so totally exhausted that many had fallen out of the ranks, and Captain Keyes was obliged to order a short halt to let them come up. When a portion had joined, we resumed our march.
The great mass of the Indians by this time had passed over the crest of the hill, and when we rode to the top but few of them were visible. Without again attempting to make any head, they had taken refuge in the woods and ravines, beyond the reach of the troops. A single group was seen at some distance, apparently left to watch us, but a shell fired from a howitzer by Lieutenant White, bursting over their heads, soon sent them to seek refuge in the ravines.
For a short time we remained on the hill but no new demonstration having been made. Colonel Wright ordered the recall to be sounded, and we marched back to the camp. A number of our men had never before been under fire, but begrimed and weary as they were, we could see in their faces how much they enjoyed the excitement of the fight. Certainly none could evince finer discipline or be-have more coolly. We had been absent from the camp about four hours, and had driven the enemy, from the point where the attack was first made, about three miles and a half
As we rode back, we saw on the plain the evidences of the fight. In all directions were scattered the arms, muskets, quivers, bows and arrows, blankets, robes, &c., which had been thrown away by our flying enemies. Horses too were roaming about, which our Indian allies were employed in catching. It was amusing to see the troops returning with their trophies. One officer had two buffalo robes and a blanket wrapped around himself and horse.
What the Indian loss was, we cannot exactly say, as they carry off their dead. Some seventeen, however, were seen to be killed, while there must have been between forty and fifty wounded. Among those killed, we subsequently ascertained, were a brother and brother-in-law of Gearry, the head chief of the Spokans.
Strange to say, not one of our men was injured. One dragoon horse alone was wounded. This was owing to the long range rifles now first used by our troops, and the discipline which enabled them so admirably to use them. Had the men been armed with those formerly used, the result of the fight, as to the loss on our side, would have been far different, for the enemy outnumbered us, and had all the courage which we are accustomed to ascribe to Indian warriors. But they were panic-struck by the effect of our fire at such great distances, and the steady advance of the troops, unchecked by the constant fire kept up by them.
The following is a list of the officers engaged in the fight.
Field and Staff
Colonel George Wright, Ninth Infantry,
Lieutenant P. A. Owen, Ninth Infantry, Acting Assistant Adjutant General.
Captain R. W. Kirkham, Quarter-master and Commissary.
Assistant Surgeon, J. F. Howard, Medical Department.
Assistant Surgeon, J. F. Randolph, Medical Department.
Lieutenant. John Mullan, Second Artillery Acting Topographical Engineer.
Troop I. Brevet Major Wm. N. Grier.
Troop E. Lieutenant Henry B. Davidson.
Troop C. Lieutenant Wm. D. Pender.
Troop H. Lieutenant David McM. Gregg.
Captain Erasmus D. Keyes, Commanding.
Captain E. O. C. Ord, Commanding Company.
Lieutenant Robert O. Tyler, Commanding Company.
Lieutenant Jambs L. White, Commanding Howitzer Detachment.
Lieutenant Dunbar R. Ransom, Commanding Company.
Lieutenant George P. Ihrie, Commanding Company.
Lieutenant Michael R. Morgan. Lieutenant James Howard.
Lieutenant Lawrence Kip, Adjutant of the Battalion.
Rifles, Ninth Infantry
Captain Frederick T. Dent, Commanding
Captain Charles S. Winder, Commanding Company
Lieutenant H. B. Fleming
Captain J. A. Hardie
Lieutenants Horatio G. Gibson
H. B. Lyon
George F. B. Dandy, were with the Companies left as guard to the camp.
After a while, our Indian allies began dropping in. They had followed the hostiles eight or ten miles, and returned loaded with their spoils, among which were some scalps. Foremost among them, as indeed he had been in the fight, was our friend Cutmouth John, waving a scalp, and catching up loose horses. Our allies concluded the day with a grand war dance about their camp fire, which was protracted far into the night.