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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 252: Wagon Boss No. 5: 'Indian Soldiers'

Friday, February 11, 2011

Before returning to Fort Scott in the Spring of 1862, wagon boss R.M. Peck recorded his observations of Humboldt, Kan., and the organization of the "Union" 1st and 2nd Regiments of Indian Home Guards in his journal. Early in the last century, he published his memoir of the Civil War in a series of articles that were published in the National Tribune, which was a newspaper published in Washington, D.C. The following is Peck's brief description of Humboldt and the Indians of the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Indian Home Guards that was published in the July 28, 1904 edition of the National Tribune.

Humboldt, Kan.

"Humboldt (on the Neosho River), was at that time, a small village of about 200 inhabitants, but next to Fort Scott, was the most important place on the southern border of Kansas. Several months previous to my visit, it had been raided by old Tom Livingston and his gang of rebel bushwhackers from Missouri.

They had plundered the stores and burned several houses the results of which were still in evidence. Having remained at Humboldt for several days, I was able to watch some officers making soldiers out of some Indians.

An expedition was now being formed at Fort Scott (and Humboldt) to convey the Indian Brigade (1st and 2nd Regiments of Indian Home Guards and several other "white" regiments) back into the "nation" (present Oklahoma) to drive the Rebels out, if possible and to give the loyal Indians a permanent footing in their own country again and an organization that would enable them to hold it.

"Indian Soldiers"

The Choctaws and Chickasaws had all gone over to the Rebels, but the Cherokees, Creeks and Seminoles were probably about equally divided as to numbers. The most intelligent and wealthy, however, the slave owners, who were principally whites and half-and quarter-breeds espousing the rebel cause while the full bloods and some few of the mixed bloods had remained faithful to the "Union".

The Osages, whose lands lay a little south of Humboldt had also split, part going south. They were hardly yet beginning to adopt the ways of the white men, most of them showing little more civilization than the "Blanket Indians" of the Plains. In fact, the majority of the Osages were at this time "Blanket Indians" themselves. One company of these was enlisted in the Indian Brigade at Humboldt, but it was found so difficult to reduce them to anything like military discipline that they were shortly afterward disbanded and allowed to return to their country of which Osage Mission (Catholic) on the Neosho River, about 40 miles south of Humboldt, which was considered their headquarters.

It was interesting to notice the use made of the full bloods of the (to them) magnificent gifts of "Uncle Sam," when clothing and equipment were issued to them. Probably few of them had ever before possessed more clothing than they carried on their persons at one time and as soon as they received their outfits (uniforms) they would put them all on, one article after another, even to the soldiers overcoats; them buckling on their belts with cartridge box and bayonet, wrapping their double U.S. blankets around over all, with a new musket in hand, would strut about the camp apparently very proud of being a United States soldier. It seemed to be a matter of duty with them. They appeared to think that all this stuff was for constant immediate use and didn't know how else to take care of so much worldly wealth and this in hot July weather.

The Osages could not be induced to wear the soldier trousers. Some of them cut off the legs and used them as leggings, but the body and seat of the trousers they threw away.

When rations were issued to these noble "red men" for 10 days at a time, as is the rule among white soldiers, they would turn loose to cooking and eating like gluttons and keep it up day and night till the whole amount was consumed, 10 days rations generally lasting them about three days and then go without or steal or starve the rest of the time.

The full blooded Indians are always jealous of, and antagonistic, to the whites and half breeds of their tribe and the Cherokees (and some of the others) have a secret organization among the full bloods. The sign by which the different members recognize each other is the wearing of a common pin in a certain position on the front of their shirt or coat. On this account the full bloods are generally spoken of as "Pin Indians."

The Indians all seemed highly elated at the prospect of returning to their own country. Those of them who have brought their families out of the "Nation" are to leave these in Kansas, in Uncle Sam's care, till the warriors re-conquer their own country and get permanently re-established there. They vow vengeance against those of their own tribes who have driven them from their homes and take possession of their property as their hatred of each other becomes very intense when arrayed on opposite sides, it is presumed that there will be few prisoners taken on either side when "Union" Indians meet "Rebel" Indians in war.

As the Indians moved out "on the warpath" from Humboldt, in an irregular straggling column, they inaugurated the undertaking by a series of yells that I supposed were intended as a ceremonious declaration of war against those who had driven them out of their homes. One at the head of the column would utter a prolonged shrill note ,and as soon as he ceased, the whole body of warriors would give forth in chorus a short, sharp bark like a dog. This was repeated several times. Then the marching column would take to gobbling like turkeys and this war whooping and gobbling kept up till they passed several miles on the road. The gobbling is their note of challenge to their enemies the turkey gobbler being their emblem of defiance. They go from Humboldt to Baxter Springs in the Cherokee Neutral Land where they will join the main invading command from Fort Scott."

After his wagon train was transferred to the quartermaster of the Indian Expedition in Humboldt and observing the organization of the 1st and 2nd Regiment of Indian Home Guards, Peck returned to Fort Scott and hired on as an assistant wagon boss of a supply train that was going from Fort Scott to Baxter Springs to become part of the "Indian Expedition" and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches