- The Fetterman Massacre led to the withdrawal of the federal government interest over the Sioux Territory, the second Laramie treaty but not peace in the region.
Events that led to the Massacre
Fort Phil Kearney is among the forts in Bozeman Trail to the Montana gold fields, meant to protect the settlers from the Native American attacks. During the Red Cloud War, against the Crow Indians led by Chief Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, Indians military tactic was guerrilla warfare. Through the tactics, the Indians were able to undermine the strong federal armies by irregular ambush attacks of the troops when they were least prepared.
Commander of the post Colonel Henry Carrington had become aware of the Indians fighting tactics. At the time, he was facing a shortage of men and war equipment, and Red Cloud was in control of the greater part of the region surrounding the Fort.
In November, Captain William Fetterman was sent to Fort Phil Kearney to support Colonel Carrington. Fetterman strongly criticises Carrington tactics and speaks in contempt of the Indians fighting ability, bragging that with ‘his skills could ride through the entire Sioux nation with 80 men.’ At the same time Red Clouds army started mocking and the troops at Fort, attempting to lure them into ambushes using decoys and attempts to provoke and enrage the troops. They fail on several occasions until they succeed.
One day in December, Fetterman is sent to retrieve a wood-gathering party that has come under attack by the Sioux, a few miles northwest of the Fort. Fetterman and an army column of 80 men were given express order to not “engage or pursue the Indians” by Carrington. Later, another column under Captain Grummond is sent after Fetterman and his men with emphasis to Fetterman to not engage or pursue the Indians. They were deployed later because they took time to prepare their weaponry.
Fetterman is successful rescues the wood parties but the Indian taunt and enrages Fetterman and his column, as they run deeper into the woods. Fetterman instead of retreating deploys his infantry after the Indians. Fetterman and his men ambushed and greasily murdered within 30 minutes. Carrington hears the noise from the attack and sends another relief army lead by Captain Ten Eyck, who reaches the site to find disfigured bodies frozen stiff in odd positions.
The US government started an inquiry into the Massacre, and Colonel Carrington defends himself by maintaining that Fetterman was the reckless and insubordinate officer who disregarded orders not to engage the natives. Other officers contradicted his testimony, swearing under oath that Carrington order Fetterman to engage but later had a change of heart and told Grummond to tell Fetterman not to engage with the Indians. However, the whole truth as to what orders Fetterman was given is not known, as Carrington was the only surviving person present during the discussion with Fetterman and Grummond is not known.
The US government decided to exit from the region, ending the Red Cloud’s war through the Laramie treaty of 1868. However, the prospect of gold in the region means that there is a continuing conflict between the Natives and the settlers. A monument in honour of Fetterman is erected at the Fetterman Massacre site managed by the State of Wyoming.