On the morning of the sixteenth day of December, 1864, the Third regiment of Colorado Volunteers moved from Pueblo down the Arkansas to Bent’s Fort. Here they made camp the first night. Before leaving the next morning they took Bent’s family prisoners, placed a guard over them, and took Bob Bent with them for a guide. He led the soldiers down to Boone’s ranch the second day, and the afternoon of the third day they came in sight of Fort Lyons. This was the first that Major Anthony and his soldiers knew there was such a regiment in existence. When he saw the Volunteers coming he sent Captain Sully with an escort out to meet them. Captain Sully demanded who they were and why they were coming to Fort Lyons. Colonel Shoop, commanding officer of the Third regiment of Colorado Volunteers, said: “We are the Third regiment of Colorado Volunteers,” and ordered Captain Sully to surrender. He then went into the fort and took Major Anthony and his soldiers prisoners.
The regiment entered the fort, fed their horses, and after the soldiers had their supper, they took the prisoners and marched toward the Indian village.
After following their guide from six in the evening, about daybreak they came in sight of the village. Bob Bent, the guide, pointed down over the ridge and said, “There they are;” then he turned away and began crying, for he knew that his mother, who was a squaw, was in the Indian village, and he was afraid that she would share the same fate as the other Indians. The officers dismissed Bob and let him go back to his home.
About a hundred yards over the ridge, on the north side of the creek from the soldiers, was the Indian village, composed of about one hundred and thirty-three lodges.
The regiment halted under the ridge and sent one company around from the right to circle in back of the Indians, while a company circled around from the left. These two came together north of the village and closed in on their horses, and run them down on the south side of the creek in back of the soldiers. Then the command moved across the creek with the artillery in advance, which moved a little further and on higher ground than the cavalry. They all faced the Indians, who were lined up in front of their lodges, and ordered to dismount.
Colonel Chivington rode down the line of his soldiers, giving them words of encouragement and cheer. He said to them, “Boys, I won’t tell you who to kill or who not to, but remember the women and children on the Platte.” After Chivington passed on down the line, Colonel Shoop came by with more encouraging words, beginning with, “Boys, you have been anticipating that you would have no opportunity to fight, but your chances look good.” Just then a shot came from the ridge above, and the ball shot out over the Indians, who laughed and danced at the soldier’s blunder, but the artillery ranged the guns and the second shot took effect. The Indians began to scatter; chiefs, squaws and children ran in every direction, principally for the sand pits they had dug in the sand at the bend of the creek, about a half mile from their lodges. The left wing of the command broke to follow them. As the colonel turned to check them, the soldiers on the right started. The officers lost control over them, for the volunteers, at sight of the Indians, remembered the crimes committed by their hands and were determined to wreak vengeance.
Some of the Indians made for the sand pits, others to the bluffs, while some hid in the tall sand grass and sage brush. There were Indians scattered over hundreds of acres of ground, but the majority were down in the sand pits and there was the principal scene of the fight. Some fought from ambush, some stood in the open and exchanged shot for shot; some struggled in hand to hand fights, using knives for weapons; squaws would take their bow and arrows and at every opportunity would down a soldier. No discipline was used; the soldiers had to fight in the savage fashion.
The battle continued all day and by evening the soldiers had completely routed the Indians. What few escaped started for Little Raven’s band on Kettle creek.
The volunteers being hungry and tired after marching all night and fighting all day without any food or rest, did not count the dead Indians or look for wounded ones, but searched their lodges for something; to eat. All they found was a little dried buffalo meat, and that was all they had for supper. Some of the soldiers went to the creek for water; what little they found trickling through the sand was red with the blood of the Indians. They dug some holes in the sand a short distance below the Indians and the water oozing through the sand became filtered before reaching the holes. The following morning the soldiers had clear water.
In making camp for the night, the officers placed the soldiers in a hollow square; that is, they were so placed as to form a square, with the soldiers facing outwardly in the four directions, so the Indians could not come and surprise them from any direction.
This precaution was taken, for a scout came into camp and said Little Raven’s band was near by and an attack was expected before daylight. The transportation wagons had not arrived, so the soldiers had no rations but the buffalo meat, and no beds. They had to rest the best they could out on the open prairie and endure the cold of a midwinter’s night. It is a wonder that any of them were able to sleep, on account of the horrible nerve racking noise that lasted throughout the night. The whole country seemed to be wreathed in agony; over the ridge came the mournful and lonely howling of the many homeless Indian dogs; further in the distance could be heard the fierce yelping and barking of the coyotes, which had become rabid over the warm odor of the fresh blood. The yelping had the heinous sound of a fiend’s chuckle when he is tormenting a victim. The soldiers could almost imagine they saw the glowing and fiery eyes and the foaming and lagging tongues of the beasts as they stealthily crept down on the mournful, homeless little dogs, before nearing the lifeless forms of the Indians, lying in the bed of the creek. Nearer at hand could be heard the whinnying and neighing of the frightened and restless horses, while from the tents the groans of the wounded floated out to the soldiers.
What harsh discord these sounds made low, pitiful murmurs and heartrending and woeful howls that tilled one with compassion, mingled with the fierce yelping that would turn compassion into fear. All of this on top of the bloody scenes witnessed during the day, and realizing, perhaps, they would face even worse things on the morrow, was enough to make the strongest shudder.
The transportation wagons arrived during the night; so early in the morning the soldiers enjoyed a hearty breakfast. Then they were divided into several squads and sent out to count the dead Indians, and if they should chance onto wounded ones, to put them out of their misery. In searching the Indian lodges, they found two hundred and sixty-three scalps, from little infants up to snowy white ones, from men, women and children of all ages. The bloodthirsty savages were no respecters of people to practice their cruel tortures on. The volunteers found clothing taken from emigrants, tools, guns, trinkets and numerous other things that the Indians had picked up in their raids.
The seven hundred horses captured from the Indians were sent to Fort Lyons in charge of Lieutenant Maire Anna and his company of forty Mexicans.
The soldiers counted between six hundred and seven hundred dead Indians, while the volunteers had about thirty wounded and eleven killed, according to the estimate of some, but this is disputed by others, so the exact number is not known, but the volunteers’ loss was very small in comparison to that of the Indians.
Two of the wounded were Colonel Talbot and Pud Wilson; both were shot at the same time and each was shot through the abdomen. They recovered and were back to their work in an incredibly short time.
Late in the afternoon a scout brought word into camp that Little Raven’s band had gone down on the Arkansas, so the cavalry and artillery were ordered to follow up his band, while the transportation wagons went by Fort Lyons for more supplies.
Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909