Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Keel-Boat Yellow Stone.

General Ashley to Major B. O’Fallon.

(twenty-five miles below the Ricaree towns,) June 4, 1823.


On the morning of the 2d instant, I was attacked by the Ricaree Indians, which terminated with great loss on my part. On my arrival there (the 30th May) I was met very friendly by some of the chiefs, who expressed a great -wish that I would stop and trade with them. Wishing to purchase horses to take a party of men to the Yellow Stone river, I agreed to comply with their request, and proposed that the chiefs of the two towns would meet me that afternoon on the sand beach, when the price of horses should be agreed upon. After a long consultation among themselves, they made their appearance at the place proposed. I made them a small present, and proposed to purchase forty or fifty horses. They appeared much pleased, and expressed much regret that a difference had taken place between some of their nation and the Americans alluding to the fray which recently took place with a party of their men and some of the Missouri Fur Company, which-terminated in the loss of two of the Ricarees, one of whom was the son of the principal chief of one of the two towns They, however, said that all the angry feelings occasioned by that affray had vanished, and that they considered the Americans as friends, and would treat them as such; that the number of horses I wanted would be furnished me for the price offered.

The next morning we commenced trading, which continued until the evening of the 1st instant, when preparations were made for my departure early the next morning. My party consisted of ninety men, forty of whom were selected to take charge of the horses, and cross the country by land to the Yellow Stone. They were encamped on the bank, within forty yards of the boats. About half-past three o’clock in the morning I was informed that one of my men had been killed, and, in all probability, the boats would be immediately attacked. The men were all under arms, and so continued until sunrise, when the Indians commenced a heavy and well directed fire from a line extending along the picketing of their towns, and some broken grounds adjoining, about six hundred yards in length. Their shot were principally directed at the men on the beach, who were making use of the horses as a breastwork. We returned the fire, but, from the advantageous situation of the Indians, did but little execution. Finding their fire very destructive, I ordered the steersmen to weigh their anchors and lay to shore, for the purpose of embarking the men; but, notwithstanding I used every measure in my power to have the order executed, I could not effect it.

Two skiffs which would carry thirty men were taken ashore; but, in consequence of a predetermination oh the part of the men on land not to give way tG the Indians as long as they could possibly do otherwise, they (with the exception of seven or eight) would not make use of the skiffs when they had an opportunity of doing so: in about fifteen minutes from the time the firing commenced, the surviving part of the men were embarked; nearly all the horses killed or wounded. One of the anchors had been weighed, the cable - of the other cut, and the boats dropping down the stream. The boatmen, with but few exceptions, were so panic struck, that it was impossible to get them to expose themselves to the least danger indeed, for some time, to move from their seats; I ordered the boat landed at the first

timber, for the purpose of putting the men and boats in a better situation to pass the villages in safety; when my intentions were made known, to my surprise and mortification, I was told by the men (with but few exceptions) that, under no circumstances, would they make a second attempt to pass without a large reinforcement Finding no arguments that I -could use would cause them to change their resolutions, I commenced making arrangements for the security of my property. The men proposed, if I would descend the river to this place, fortify the boats, or make any other defence for their security, that they would remain with me until I could receive aid from Major Henry, or from some other quarter. I was compelled to agree to the proposition. On my arrival here, I found them as much determined to go lower. A resolution had been formed by most of them to desert. I called for volunteers to remain with me, under any circumstances, until I should receive the expected aid. Thirty only volunteered; among them were but five boatmen. Consequently, I am compelled to send one boat back; after taking a part of her cargo on board on this boat, the balance will be stored at the first fort below. My loss in killed and wounded is as follows:


John Matthews-------------Reece Gibson.
John Collins----------------Joseph Monse.
Aaron Steevens------------John Lawson.
James McDaniel----------Abm. Ricketts.
Westley Piper-------------Robt. Tucker.
George Flagen------------Joseph Thompson.
Benja. F. Sweed----------Jacob Miller.
James Penn, Jr.,----------Danl. MeClain.
John Miller----------------Hugh Glass.
John S. Gardner----------Augustus Dufien.
Ellis Ogle-----------------Willis, (black man.)
David Howard.

I do not conceive but two of the wounded in danger. How many of the Indians were killed, I am at a loss to say; I think not more than seven or eight; four or five were seen to fall on the beach; I have thought proper to communicate this affair as early as an opportunity offered, believing that you would feel disposed to make these people account to Government for the outrage committed. Should that be the case, and a force sent for that purpose in a short time, you will oblige me much if you will send me an express, at my own expense, if one can be procured, that I may meet and cooperate with you. From the situation of the Indian towns, it will be difficult for a small force to oust them without a six pounder. The towns are newly picketed in with timber, from six to eight inches thick, twelve to fifteen feet high; dirt in the inside thrown up about eighteen inches. They front the river, and immediately in front of them is a large sand-bar, forming nearly two-thirds of a circle, at the head of which (where the river is very narrow) they have a breastwork made of dry wood; the ground on the opposite side of the river is high and commanding. They have about six hundred warriors, I suppose; three-fourths of them armed with London fusees; others with bows and arrows, war axes, &c.

I expect to hear from Major Henry (to whom I sent an express) in twelve or fifteen days; during that time I shall remain between this place and the Ricaree towns, not remaining any length of time in one place, as my force small not more than twenty-three effective men.

Your friend and obedient servant,


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