Chief Yellowhair

Flight of General Forsyth

Chief Yellowhair
Chief Yellowhair

In the year of 1868, General Forsyth, assisted by Lieutenant Beecher and Scouts Grover and McCall, had charge of fifty-one men in the eastern part of Colorado. They were certain of an attack and had no more than completed their preparations for a defense than young Chief Roman Nose, a perfect specimen of a savage leader, being six feet and three inches tall and sinewy and slim, and carrying himself with a daring and reckless movement, led his band of a thousand warriors just a little beyond rifle range of the soldiers. Two squads of these were placed at each end of the island and kept up a continual crossfire, so that the soldiers did not dare to raise in their rifle pits to fire at the oncoming forces that were charging down on them from in front, so the bullets were falling thick all around the soldiers. Fortunately for the soldiers, that once the chargers came within range of the bullets of their men on the island, they would have to cease firing. The general noticed this, so was waiting for the break in the firing. His soldiers had turned in their rifle pits, their rifles to their shoulders ready to spring up and fire as soon as the order was given. They were all impatiently waiting.

Before a great while the crossfire ceased and the soldiers had their chance. General Forsyth said, “Now,” and Beecher, McCall and Grover repeated the order. The soldiers rose as one man and sent seven consecutive volleys into the charging horde of savages. The first and second volleys were answered with yells from the savages, as they continued towards the rifle pits, but the third was followed by fewer shouts and gaps began to show in their ranks. But still they kept bravely pushing on to the soldiers, Roman Nose leading them and wildly waving his rifle at them to come on, and shouting his defiant war cry. At the fourth volley, their medicine man, who was leading one of their columns, went down. This checked the others for an instant; then they rushed on with renewed energy and force. The fifth volley thinned their ranks, and with the sixth, Chief Roman Nose and his horse fell together, both mortally wounded.

A few feet more and the savages would be upon the soldiers, but the column hesitates and shows signs of weakness; the soldiers take advantage of them and poured the seventh volley into their ranks, just as some of the warriors had reached the edge of the island. Then, with ringing cheers, the frontiersmen springing quickly to their feet, poured the contents of their revolvers into the very faces of the onrushing mounted warriors. The Indians, completely cowered and defeated, divided, and laying low over their ponies, hurried to get out of reach of the soldiers’ revolvers and to a place of safety.

There were about eight soldiers killed and twelve wounded. General Forsyth was wounded three times, but dragged himself around to care for the wounded soldiers. Lieutenant Beecher was shot in the side, and simply said, “General, I have got my death wound,” then murmured something about “poor mother,” and died as bravely and unflinchingly as he had fought.

The dead horses were unsaddled and the saddles used to strengthen the fortifications, and pieces of the horses were buried to keep for the soldiers to subsist on. The meat had to be eaten raw, but fortunately there was plenty of good water. The soldiers, being nearly exhausted, slept throughout the night, but the next day was so hot that the wounded ones suffered intensely. It was a gloomy day, without food, but raw horse meat; no comfort for the wounded and no hope of ever getting away ; and in the Indian camp near by the squaws were beating drums and keeping up a steady death chant.

The soldiers dared not venture from behind their fortifications, for they would have no chance whatever; the Indians were waiting for them, and such a few, burdened with their wounded comrades, could not protect themselves. They must wait and let fate take its course.

General Forsyth had sent out two messengers to carry dispatches to the officers at Fort Wallace, telling of their hopeless condition and asking for help. But the messengers were unable to get past the Indian pickets, so returned. The day after the fight he sent two more, with full particulars of the fight, the wounded, and their trying circumstances. In the meantime the soldiers were growing weaker and more hopeless. On the fourth day the meat had become putrid, but one of the soldiers killed a wolf, which helped them to hold out a little longer.

Forsyth’s wound was getting very painful and he asked the soldiers to cut the bullet out, but it being near the femoral artery they were afraid to undertake it, so the general took his razor and cut it out himself. Later his leg was jarred and the broken bone protruded through the flesh. On the sixth day Forsyth called the well soldiers to him and told them to try and save themselves; the wounded ones would stay and take their chances, they were about done for anyway. There was silence for a few moments, then the men said, “Never! Never! We will stand by you till the end, general.” And McCall said, “We have fought together, and, by heavens, if need be, we can die together.”

Thus showing the faithfulness and self-sacrifice of the scouts and soldiers on the frontier.

The next two days seemed to be almost interminable, as there was so much suffering and misery among the slowly starving and dying soldiers. On the morning of the ninth day, one of the soldiers jumped up and said, “There are some objects on the hills in the distance.” All that were able leaped to their feet and strained their eyes to see what it was. Finally a scout said, “By the heavens above us, it is an ambulance.” The strain was over. The two messengers had succeeded in meeting Colonel Carpenter with the Tenth cavalry and he hastened to their rescue.

Though the fight was a thousand to fifty one, the white men won in the end, in spite of the uneven numbers, the hardships and suffering and the disadvantages of the soldiers.

Some of the Pioneers of Colorado

Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909

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