Travel the Historic Trail Along U.S. Highway 212 from Belle Fourche, SD to Crow Agency, MT

Powder River Expedition

In 1865 the Cole expedition of the U.S. Government set out to coordinate with two other columns in Montana. They entered South Dakota in the area of the Badlands but entered the northern hills through the Whitewood Valley Road over to St. Onge and upward over the hill and down into the Redwater River valley. They actually camped in the location of the bridge on highway 85 south of Belle Fourche. Afterward they traveled west and north following the Little Missouri River and then over towards the Powder River and back south where they engaged in the longest running battle of the Indian wars.

On September 8, 1865, the over 2,000 United States soldiers and civilians of Colonel Cole’s and Walker’s column’s were marching South, up Powder River in Montana Territory. Unbeknownst to them, a village of Over 2,500 Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho including the Cheyenne chief Roman Nose, were camped less than ten miles away.

When discovering this, the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho warriors, not wanting the soldiers to attack their village, attacked the soldiers first. The soldiers’ lead guard, was marching about one quarter of a mile ahead of the column. This command was hit first. Out of the 25 men of the lead guard, two men became casualties. After seeing this first confrontation, Lieutenant Colonel Walker sent a courier back to inform Colonel Cole of the attack.

At the time, Cole was overseeing the crossing of his wagon train to the east bank of the Powder River. Cole ordered the train, out of the timber and corralled, and the 12th Missouri Cavalry to skirmish through the woods along the river bank, and to drive out a body of Indians in the woods. The soldiers pushed the warriors off the battlefield. Near the end of the engagement, another Private was wounded. At least one Native American was killed in the engagement.

A snowstorm during the night of September 8–9, 1865, caused further problems for the soldiers, most of whom were now on foot, in rags, and reduced to eating raw horse meat.

On the morning of September 10, 1865, Cole’s, and Walker’s column’s were encamped near the confluence of the Little Powder River and the Powder River when Native American warriors appeared. There were volleys and some sporadic firing. On September 11, there was more light skirmishing. On September 13, two scouts from Brigadier General Connor’s column found Walker’s and Cole’s column’s on Powder River and informed them of the newly established Fort Connor on Powder River east of Kaycee, Wyoming. Cole, Walker and their soldiers arrived there on September 20, 1865. Connor deemed the soldiers unfit for further service and sent them back to Fort Laramie where most of them were mustered out of the army.