Monday, June 04, 2007

Representations of Indians and US Army along the Oregon Trail: Ash Hollow

From Kearney until Ash Hollow, the golden age of the Overland Migration (1843-1860) goes unmentioned. What is marked at places near Lexington or Maxwell is of the later West. Roadside signs discuss Indian raids, violence, Pawnee scouts against the Sioux, and Buffalo Bill. The innocence of the early years of the trail is gone. But every Garden of Eden has its own sins.

Ash Hollow near present Lewellen, Nebraska was a place of peaceful rest along the trail. The trail briefly left the Platte River to go over some arid hills. The reward was a place of vegetation and water. Sioux Indians would camp along the valley during hunts. It quickly became a place of trade and interaction. Many emigrant diaries tell of how moccasins were highly valuable items to trade for. The Inidans clearly knew how to make better footware for walking across the Great Plains.

Ash Hollow is most famous for the Battle of Blue Water in 1855. The battle was between the United States Army under the command of Colonel William Harney and Dakota Sioux lead by Little Thunder. The prelude to the battle was in 1854 with the Gratten Massacre (to be discussed in the Fort Laramie post). After the massacre Little Thunder's band raided a few wagon trains and took scalps from some emigrants. Harney arrived from the East and instructed the various nearby Sioux to camp near Fort Laramie or be crushed. Little Thunder's band refused and camped near Ash Hollow. In 1855 Little Thunder was defeated and Harney marched on to Fort Pierre in a show of force against the Sioux. His actions so frightened the Sioux that it was nearly a decade before the next confrontation.

The battle is depicted in three different ways. A sign in the Ash Hollow parking lot reads in part:

In 1855 a significant fight, commonly called the Battle of Ash Hollow, occurred at Blue Water Creek northwest of here. General Harney's forces sent out to chastise the Indians after the Grattan Massacre of 1854 here attacked Little Thunder's band of Brule Sioux while the Indians were attempting to parley, killed a large number and captured the rest of the band.

The museum has a series of displays which goes in depth into the order of the battle and following events but merely says after the parley each side prepared for battle.

A few miles outside Ash Hollow is a roadside marker which reads:

On September 3, 1855, the U.S. Army's 600-man Sioux Expedition, commanded by Col. William S. Harney, attacked and destroyed a Lakota village located three miles north on Blue Creek. The fight became known as the Battle of Blue Water, sometimes the Battle of Ash Hollow after the nearby landmark, or the Harney Massacre.

The army's attack avenged the Indian annihilation of Lt. John Grattan's command near Fort
Laramie in 1854. Harney concluded the more than 250 Brules and Oglalas camped on Blue
Creek were the guilty parties. He divided his force and led his infantry towards the village. While Harney engaged in a delaying parley with Chief Little Thunder, the mounted troops had circled undetected to the north.

The infantry opened fire with its new, long-range rifles and forced the Indians to flee toward the mounted soldiers, who inflicted terrible casualties. Eighty-six Indians were killed, seventy
women and children were captured, and their tipis were looted and burned. This first, yet often
overlooked, military campaign against the Lakota kept the Overland Trail open, but only
postponed until 1863-64 a war between the two nations.

The last sign is along a bend in the highway with a high speed limit. Clearly it was not meant to be read as much as the other interpretations. The importance of the parley is clearly the most controversial matter in the battle. Also, the highly read interpretations keep the style of not discussing the unpleasant negatives of the Indian Wars.

After Ash Hollow the Great Plains continue on. However, the Platte River begins to be flanked by natural wonders to the south and the sand hills to the north. The geography is changing.

Trail ruts on a hill near Ash Hollow

1 comment:

Dan tdaxp said...

Reminds me of the battling descriptions of President Austin at SFASU.