Beall's 1849 Expedition


Maj. Ben Beall to Lt. John Dickerson, 2d Arty., AAAG, Head Quarters, 9th Military Dist.

Don Fernando de Taos, NM, March 12, 1849


Agreeably to a letter of instructions from Head Quarters 9th Mily Department, dated 27th January 1849, directing me to “proceed as soon as possible to the country inhabited by the Kiowa Indians” for the purpose of releasing “a number of prisoners in their possession who have been captured in New Mexico,” I have the honor to submit the following report.

On the morning of the 10th ultimo I left Taos with Company I 1st Dragoons under the command of 1st Lieut Whittlesey accompanied by 2d Lieut. J. H. Adams 1st Dragoons acting adjt to the Detachment, and asst. Surgeon H. R. Wirtz. I crossed the mountains of the “Rio de la Mora” by different passes and through deep snow and reaching the Prairie on the eastern side I was joined Lieut. A. Pleasanton in command of Co. H, 2d Dragoons, on the 14th. I then took the most direct route to the Arkansas River and camped on the “Rio Lempa” on the 22d being then within thirty miles of Bent’s Fort.

It appears that news had reached Bents Fort from the “Green Horn” that a military force was en route to the Kiowa Nation to liberate the Mexican prisoners in their possession and accordingly on the evening of that day I received a letter by express from the Fort from the U. States Indian Agent for the Upper Platte and Arkansas (Mr. Fitzpatrick) and also one from an influential resident at the Pueblo. The purpose of these letters was as follows—That the Indians in the vicinity of the post were at present exceedingly civil, but that if forcible measures were resorted to in order to liberate the prisoners in the hands of the Kiowas, the lives and property of the Americans residing in that portion of the country would be in the most imminent danger if they were not absolutely compelled to leave the settlements at the sacrifice of all they possessed. The Indian Agent, therefore, requested that I come on to Bents Fort in advance of my command in order that we might confer together about the feasibility of the expedition. On the following morning, I marched to the Arkansas, and early the next day reaching the Fort encamping my command on the South bank of the Arkansas river.

By the letter of instruction to me directed, I understand that every possible measure was to be adopted in order to secure the liberation of the captives in the hands of the Kiowa Indians, but that if they could not be obtained “peaceably” they must be obtained “otherwise.”

I was convinced by the opinion of every person on the Arkansas who was acquainted with Indian affairs that to obtain the Mexican captives by peaceable means was a thing impossible and great stress being laid in the above mentioned letter of instruction upon the desirability of a continuance of the friendly relations between the Kiowas and Whites I was in doubt how to act.

On arriving at the Fort I learned from the U. States Indian Agent that the greater part of the Kiowa nation was absent on a great hunt with the Comanches and that but a few lodges were at that time on the Arkansas River. The majority of the prisoners I also understood were with the absent party.

The expediency of an attack upon the few Kiowas who were then on the Arkansas (for I was convinced they would not release their captives without a fight) and the chance of losing thereby those persons who were with the remainder of the nation, thus defeating in a measure the object of the expedition, induced me to call a council of my officers, and I now present for the consideration of the comg officer of the 9th Mily Department my reasons for acting as I have done, and the conclusion which I have adopted.

1st In the first place I thought it best to learn the disposition of the Kiowas in regard to their prisoners, and I obtained the following information—the majority of the captives are women who are married to Indians and have by their numerous children. This portion is perfectly satisfied, with but a few exceptions, to remain, and even if offered their “liberty” would doubtfully refuse to leave a nation with which they have so many ties. The male portion of the captives have become perfectly barbarianised, and in their mode of life and custom have affiliated themselves            more or less completely with their captors. These individuals if liberated would be totally unfitted for and made miserable by the usages of civilized life. The Indians themselves are much attached to their prisoners from affection or cupidity and would fight for them with as much tenacity as for their own people. I therefore saw that the Kiowa would must certainly give us battle rather than give up a portion of their own nation as it were into our hand.

2dly  The feasibility and expectancy of successfully resorting to forcible measures was there to be considered. (1) The great map of the Kiowa nation was absent. The majority of the prisoners was with them. To attack those who were in camp on the Arkansas was no easy matter.  Here was a Kiowa lodge, there Arapahoe lodge; here again a Kiowa lodge — there a Cheyenne lodge, for about fifteen miles along the river bank, indeed so interrupted and scattered were they that in a sudden attack upon the Kiowas, many Indians of other tribes would have been there fired, and many Kiowas would have escaped.  To tell them the object of the expedition, to order them to separate themselves and fight us, would have been the extreme of folly, inasmuch as if they did present a bold front, the prisoners would certainly be run off or if there was no chance to effect this they would massacre them rather than let them fall into our hands. (2) Even supposing it to have been reasonable to have obtained every prisoner there from the Arkansas, all hope would have been lost of our regaining by forcible means the remainder and the majority.  In the inaccessible vastness of the mountains and in the wide spread plains of the Indian country they would have hidden them from us most probably successfully. (3) Again — several Comanche chiefs have lately arrived at this post suing for peace.  Now the Comanches have more prisoners than any other tribe of the Plains, and as a peace with the Comanches was considered a desireable object by the U. States Indian Agent, and as a statement of the object of my expedition would most certainly have interrupted such arrangements by informing them that the United States intended to take all prisoners from the Indians forcibly and not purchased them as has always been done heretofore I give to this consideration also its proper weight. (4) There was still another consideration of great importance, namely defenseless condition of the American citizen on the Arkansas, far away from the new Mexican settlements, exposed to the cruelty of outraged savages and unable by their number or strength to stand such odds.  The effect of a fight with the Kiowa would have certainly have broken up the prospect of civilization along the course of the Arkansas and the valley of the “greenhorn.”

Under these adverse circumstances I concluded according to the best of my judgment that it would be to the interest of the service and the general Government to delay forcible measures until I could lay the state of the case before the army officer of the 9th mily and Department and at the same time to avail myself of every piece of useful information I could collect for their action.

That the expedition might not be unproductive of useful results, and there being present at the fort several principal Chiefs of the different tribes, I concluded to call them together in Council and give them some advice and information with regard to the present State of New Mexico, Texas and the Plains carefully advising in conformity with my conclusions herein stated, any mention of the Mexican Prisoners in the hands of the Kiowas.

Leaving Bents Fort on the 2d inst, I directed my course up the Arkansas, ordering Lieut. Pleasanton with his command to return to Santa Fe via the Mora intending myself to reach this post with Company I, 1st Dragoons via “Sierra Blanca” leaving the Spanish peaks on my left.

The passage of this mountain was very difficult.  The snow in many places ten or fifteen feet deep, and was only by the most untiring exertion on the part of the command in beating down the drifting snow that a track was formed. The command reached this Post on the 9th inst.

Subjoined are the minutes of the council, and two letters from the U. States Indian Agent, and one from a citizen of the Pueblo.

I am very respectfully your obt. Servt.,

B.L. Beall, Major, 1st Dragoons Comy

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Thomas Fitzpatrick to Beall

Bents Fort, February 2, 1849


Being at the Puebla a few days ago on my way to the Katty [?] I learned that you were en route for this place, and being apprehensive that some difficulty might arise out of your mission I thought it best to return and be present. There are great numbers of Indians in this vicinity at present all of which are exceedingly civil, but should you be obliged to resort to harsh measures in regard to the Mexican prisoners I doubt much whether they will remain civil longer than your presence will keep them in awe. Such a state of things, you are aware will leave many American citizens in a very dangerous situation in this country. But I hope that your judicious management in the matter will not leave the least appearance of danger behind. Your arrival here at this time is very opportune for more reasons than one, as four Comanche Chiefs suing for peace have just arrived.

You may rely implicitly on my cooperation with you and would be glad if you could arrive here in advance of your command in order that we might confer together on the whole subject.

Thos. Fitzpatrick

I have just arrived last night late in haste.

Thomas Fitzpatrick to Beall

Bents Fort, February 24, 1849

Sir, For the purpose of fulfilling, and carrying out the 4th article of the late treaty between the United States and Mexico (which obligates the United States to liberate and restore to Mexico all persons in possession of Indians residing within the territories of the United States), being the object of your visit here at present, with your command. I hope you will not consider me presuming too much if I take the opportunity of submitting my opinion and views on a matter which so deeply interests the general government, as well as many American citizens whose business leads them into this remote and unprotected region.

I am not aware, nor do I make pretentions of possessing any power or authority whatever that could give one a right to interfere in the smallest degree with the performance of your duty or instructions. On the contrary I feel bound by duty as well as inclination to cooperate with and aid you to the utmost of my abilities, and inasmuch as I consider myself acquainted with the disposition, manners, customs, habits and prospects of the Indian tribes of this country, as well as the situations of the whites thereby, I respectfully lay before you the following statement in order that you may thus more readily decide on the most proper course to pursue.

There is immediately in the vicinity of this place at the present time, a portion of several tribes—Cheyenne’s, Kiowas, Aripahoes [sic], Apache, and a delegation of Comanche Chiefs now in this fort who have first arrived and are immediately suing for peace with the American people. Of all these tribes, the Kiowas are the only tribe who have prisoners amongst them, and I am quite certain that they will never surrender them without ransom of by force of arms, which if resorted to will not only cause the death of some of the prisoners, but will drive them once more into an inveterate state of hostility against us. What is meant by force of arms causing the deaths of a part of the prisoners is that, whenever the Indians are attacked on their account, those having any in possession will immediately will put all those to death whom they suppose have any inclination to leave them. A similar effect with a like policy will be produced on the Comanche, who have, perhaps more Mexican prisoners than all the others put together, and are now, as before observed, within this fort seeking the “olive branches”. But the greatest difficulty which I perceive you are likely to meet with in the accomplishment of the object of the present campaign is that the Indians are so scattered and interspersed, that in making an attack on any encampment you will liable to injure necessarily olf each of the above tribes and thereby embroil yourself with the whole.

In bringing to you notice all of the foregoing considerations you will perceive that I have said little or nothing in regard to the very dangerous, and precarious situation which such a state of affairs as I have referred to, would place many American citizens pursuing a lawful and laudably, and laudable business in this country. But the many disasters and misfortunes which American citizens have been subjected to in this country, are well known, yet up to this moment there has never been the slightest effort made towards their protection, or redress for wrongs.

The foregoing is but a brief and hasty writing of what is likely may arise out of any attempt to obtain the Mexican prisoners by force of arms. Indeed, the whole matter seems to be so different from the first and various usages of the United States government towards the red man, that I can with difficulty, and only because coming from so respectable source, realize or believe the fact. It is well known that any thing taken in war by Indians, according to their notions is of more value than any other sort of property, inasmuch as it becomes a portion of the history and fame of the warrior.

When I first became acquainted with the article of the treaty which is the subject of this letter I at once came to the conclusion that congress as soon as practicably devise and means for its fulfillment, by appointing commissioners, or agents to treat with the friendly tribes and thereby accomplish the object amicably. I wish to be understood as having no objection whatever to any thing or course you may see proper to pursue. I only beg to be allowed to say that this is not the proper season of the year to accomplish this object in view, over winter, is your command sufficiently strong in case of a union of the bands now almost together, as it were in one camp on the river.

REPORT: Dragoon Expedition 1839

ARMY AND NAVY CHRONICLE, Vol. IX, No. 18, October 31, 1839 (Whole Number 263)


Fort Leavenworth, Oct. 3, 1839.

Mr. Editor: During that portion of the year in which the prairie grass will sustain horses, it has been customary at this post to detach squadrons or troops, monthly, on a march of reconnaissance along the frontier, to the vicinity of those Indian tribes whose known propensities would lead to the supposition of their committing depredations upon the property of the whites, or of whom complaints had already been made of outrages actually committed. A short account of a March of this kind, of more than usual interest, made during the past month, to the Otoes and Missourias, may not be uninteresting to some of your readers.

In consequence of complaints made of the evil disposition manifested by the Otoes towards the whites, particularly in their conduct to the employés of the Government living among them. Col. Kearny, in immediate command of two squadrons of his regiment, left Fort Leavenworth on the 5th September, to visit them at their villages on the Great Platte river. The officers of the expedition were Col. Kearny, commanding; Major Wharton, Adjutant Thompson, Surgeon Macomb; Capt. Boone, commanding 1st squadron; Capt. Allen commanding 2d squadron; and Lieutenants Steen, Davidson, Chilton and Bowman.

Following, generally, the old ‘Council Bluffs” road, on the south side of the Missouri river, the troops moved leisurely onward, over a country luxuriant, picturesque, and at some points beautiful; the monotony of the march being varied by, at one time, the necessity of cutting down the abrupt banks of some prairie stream, to allow the passage of the wagons, and, at another, of turning from a direct course to head some hollow whose marshy bottom would bear neither man nor horse. In this manner, by easy marches, Wolfe river, the Great and Little Nemahaw, Table Creek, L’eau qui pleut, and many streams of lesser note being crossed, and the site (a most eligible one) for the new post on Table Creek having been visited, we finally stood upon the batiks of the Great Platte. This river, being low, was fordable by horses, but its bed abounding in quicksands rendered the crossing entirely impracticable to loaded wagons. An opportunity was thus offered of testing the utility of Capt. Lane’s admirable application of India rubber to purposes of military economy. A small box, of little weight, containing a boat capable of transporting about 1500 pounds weight across a rapid stream, having been brought with us, the cylinders were inflated and the boat launched. It is almost superfluous, after the many testimonials in its favor, to say that the boat answered all the purposes of its invention, uniting with an ease of management and a readiness of transportation, which must give it entire precedence over every other kind of ponton yet offered to the consideration of the military public. On the sandy beach of this river we found the bones of one of three dragoons who had been drowned a few months previous, while conducting to their tribe some Omahas taken prisoners by the Sacs. The now useless sword and belt and cartridge-box, lying with their owner’s remains, and marked with the letter of his company, and his number, identified the individual. The skeleton, having been placed in a box, was conveyed to our camp, and that evening buried with the honors of war.

The point of our destination having been reached, the Otoes were invited through their agent, Mr. Hamilton, to a council on the 16th. After a delay of unusual length, though at no time remarkable for punctuality, a long string of warriors, boys and women, gave notice of the approach of the nation. The whole assembly having halted a few hundred yards beyond our chain of sentinels, some twenty of the chief men, having dismounted, approached the encampment, and being led to the commanding officer, took their seats in council; on being told, however, that the whole nation were invited to hear what was, to be said to them, the greater portion of the people came forward, taking their stations in concentric circles around the council fire. Observing that, contrary to custom, the Indians had come into council armed, the commanding officer refused to have any thing to say to them while thus equipped, and directed them to lay aside weapons which he neither feared nor had come to contend against. This being done, Col. Kearnv addressed the council.

He told the Otoes that he was glad to see them ; he said he was the representative of their Great Father, the President, who had placed him in their vicinity to observe their conduct; that many reports of their

misconduct towards their white brethren had reached his ears, that as it would be hard to make a whole nation suffer for the acts of a few individuals, he should only punish the most prominent of those against whom complaints had been made; he called upon Kanzas Tunga (Big Kaw) to deliver to him some young men whom he named. (Three young men having been delivered to him, the commanding officer proceeded,) that as these young men had acted badly towards the whites, he intended to punish them before the nation, that it might be a lesson to them would all for the future not to molest the white man—that should the punishment then inflicted fail in producing the intended effect, and he should again hear com- plaints of their bad conduct, it would be as easy for him to visit them again as it had been them; in con elusion he advised them, in their difficulties, to seek counsel from their agent, who would always hear their complaints and assist them.

Kanzas Tunga, Waronisa, Le Voleur, and most of the leading men replied, generally admitting that

their young men had acted badly, but that they were not able to restrain them,” and two of the old chiefs, Waronisa and Le Voleur, offered themselves for punishment in place of the prisoners.   One fine looking young chief came forward, and under great excitement said, “My Father, I place myself among these prisoners, whatever punishment you inflict on them, let me undergo first.”” Cha-ra-to-rishe, or Chef Malade, the head chief of the Pawnees, who with a few of his chiefs, was present, reproached the

Otoes for their conduct, for their turbulence and internal discord; and for the murder of the only man

among them, Jotan [in April 1837]—told them he could manage his young men, and if the Otoe Chiefs could not do the same, they were unworthy the title.

The agent, Mr. Hamilton, now rose, and requested  Col. Kearny to give to him the prisoners, and not to

punish them: that he would be answerable for their future good conduct, and that he thought the nation

would be as much benefited by what had already passed, as if the punishment had actually been inflicted. To this request, after some consideration, the Colonel yielded, and addressed the Otoes again, saying, that as their peace-father had interceded for their young men, he had given them to him—that his intention had been to whip, not to kill, but to whip them there, publicly, before the whole nation, that all might know that they had been punished, and that should he ever have cause again to visit them for their misconduct, his ears would be closed to all solicitations from their agent.

Mr. Hamilton having then explained to the Otoes the pledges he had made in-their behalf, and restored the prisoners, advised them to conduct themselves in good faith towards the white people sent among them by their Great Father for their benefit, and to remember all that had been said to them. The council then dissolved. The Otoes had been much alarmed, and had probably expected that some of their people were – to be killed, or that some treachery was intended, and had accordingly come to the council prepared for the

worst, to fight if necessary, but with no intention of doing so unless forced by an attack by the troops. They were evidently much relieved by the result, and the lesson they have received in the firmness displayed by Col. Kearnv, together with the contempt for their prowess, and confidence in his own resources which he evinced in the council, will doubtless restrain them within proper limits for at least some years.

On the 17th the Missouri river was passed, the horses swimming it, and the camp for the night was formed at one of the Pottawattamie villages. These Indians having been invited to council on the following day, some dozen of their head chiefs appeared, and the commanding officer spoke to them of the invitation of the Government to enter into a new treaty with them or an exchange of their present lands for others lying on the south side of the Missouri. He advised them to accompany the agent of the Government, Capt. Gantt, to examine these lands, and explained to them the difference between living in a territory under the laws of the United States, and within the limits of a State enacting its own laws, and which would certainly extend its jurisdiction over such Indian tribes as might be embraced in its geographical boundaries: that in a few ???rs such would be their situation in their present residence ; he therefore would advise them, as their friend, to accede to the wishes of their Great Father, at least so far as to examine the country which he wished to give them in exchange for theirs. He concluded by saying he spoke to them as a friend, not as the authorized agent of the Government. The orator of the nation replied, simply, that heretofore their ears had been deaf to all words upon the subject of their removal, but that they had now heard the advice of their Father, they thanked him for it, they were glad to see him, and would always be glad to see him at their towns.

These Indians complain that a treaty has been made with them, which has only been partially fulfilled, and that therefore they are unwilling to enter into any new engagements with the Government.  There is truth and justice in the remark; and if it is really the wish to remove the Pottawattamies to the other side of the Missouri river, the stipulations of the late treaty should, at once, be complied with, or any attempt to institute a satisfactory negotiation for an exchange of lands may be considered futile. The command returned to Fort Leavenworth on the 25th September.

Clash at the Coon Creeks: Lt. John Love's Report of 27 June, 1847

Camp on the “Arkansas,” June 27, 1847.

Sir: I have the honor to report, that company “B,” 1st dragoons, marched from Fort Leavenworth on the 7th instant, to join the army in New Mexico, escorting some three hundred and fifty thousand dollars– government funds. On our arrival at “Pawnee Fork,” (about three hundred miles from Fort Leavenworth,) we found two “trains” of wagons bound for Santa Fe, and one returning to the United States. The day before our arrival, one of the “trains” for Santa Fe, and the one for the United States, (encamped about one mile apart,) were attacked by the Indians, supposed to be either Pawnees or Osages– (each tribe receiving an annuity.) All the oxen of the return ” train” were driven off and killed in sight of Pawnee Fork. One man of Mr. Wethered’s trading party was severely wounded lanced in five or six places. I at once determined to travel with the trains for Santa Fe, and give them all the protection in my power. Our first day’s march from Pawnee Fork brought us on the Arkansas river, where we encamped; one train a quarter of a mile from the river; the other nearly the same distance from the river, and three or four hundred yards from the first. With my company I encamped on the bank of the river between the two trains.

On the morning of the 26th– just as the oxen of the first train were turned out of the coral, (a pen formed by the wagons,) the oxen of the second about turning out to graze, and the horses of the company were picketed– the Indians made their appearance a half mile distant, in full chase after the oxen.– The herdsmen used every effort to drive the oxen back into the coral; but, unable to do so, placed themselves between the oxen and Indians, hoping to prevent their being driven off. The Indians charged boldly amongst the oxen, frightened them, and drove them into the prairie; wounding in the charge two or three herdsmen. As soon as I saw the Indians, I ordered the company to saddle. Some Indian, seeing my intention to pursue, immediately appeared on the opposite bank of the river, numbering fifty or one hundred men. It now became necessary for me to protect our own camp; I therefore dismounted all but 25 men I ordered, under Sergeant Bishop to pursue the Indians, and recover the oxen proven weight loss supplements.– When the sergeant arrived in the vicinity of the oxen, the Indians swarmed in from all directions, and completely surrounded his platoon; he charged fearlessly amongst them, but our horses being wild, and unaccustomed to the yells of the Indians and shaking of blankets, (all done to frighten the horses,) could not be held by the riders. So great was the number of Indians– supposed to be three hundred on the north side, and two hundred on the south side of the river– that all hope of cutting a way through to the oxen was abandoned. It is with the deepest regrets that I have to report five of our best men killed: privates Arledge, Dickhart, Gaskill, Short, and Blake; and Sergeant Bishop and five men wounded. Sergeant Bishop (who so gallantly led the charge) and privates Lovelace and Vankastar are severely wounded; privates Bush, Wilson, and Ward slightly. With pride, I call your attention to the gallant conduct of this platoon of the company, as shown in the list of killed and wounded we have no means of telling, as their dead were carried off the field.

The oxen of one train having been driven off, I have encamped both trains together, and shall remain with them until enough trains together, and shall remain with them until enough trains arrive to take the government property to Santa Fe. I would respectfully call your attention to the fact, that it is the determination of the Indians, headed (as I have every reason to believe) by white men and Spaniards, to destroy all the government property in their power. It would seem at first sight that one company of soldiers ought to be enough to secure any number of oxen and mules from spies to watch our movements, never attacked unless by the Indians, but, sir, you must reflect that the animals of a train have to be scattered over a large extent of country for grazing; that in an attack, it is nearly as much as a company of dragoons can do to prevent their horses from taking a “stampede;” that the Indians, thoroughly acquainted with the country, and constantly having everything is in their favor; that being the most expert horsemen I the world, they are enabled to make an attack, alarm the animals, and be out of sight in an incredibly short time. You can judge, when from the time they were first seen approaching on the 26th, until they had the oxen over the river and out of sight, was not more than half an hour.

The only way, then, sir, to insure safety to public property on this road, is, in my opinion, to station about 300 mounted men at Pawnee Fork, 300 near the crossing of Arkansas, and 300 more at or near the upper Cimeron spring. These troops to have their permanent encampments at these points, but to scour the country in all directions, and at least keep the Indians in check, or they cannot catch them.– Scarcely a party has crossed the prairie this spring in summer without being harassed by them. I deem it my duty to make this report to you, believing a proper representation has not been made to you of all the outrages committed by the Camanches and other Indians during the last six months; and to represent the importance of taking active measures to insure safety to the provision trains. There was a fort or depot established by the quartermaster’s department near the crossing of the Arkansas; but this was worse than useless, as the Indians kept the few men there penned up, and have eventually succeeded in compelling them to abandon and burn the fort. This I learn from a wagon-master. The only way to deal with these Indians is to station a force in their country, to pursue and whip them for any misconduct.

With the highest respect, I am, sir, your obedient servant, JNO. LOVE,

lieut. 1 dragoons, comd’g. comp. B.