Wagon Box Fight Interpretive Signs
At Wagan Box Memorial Site about 5 miles northwest of Fort Phil Kearny

Wagon Box Monument
Before you stands a monument dedicated to the courage and bravery of the defenders in the Wagon Box fight of August 2, 1936. This monument was built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The legend was written by local historians and although it was accurate with the information available at the time,it is now known to contain several discrepancies. Also, it makes no mention of the Lakota warriors who died on this field in defense of their cullture.

It is not known if Red Cloud was the actual leader during this battle and the number of Lakota warriors who were involved in the Wagon Box Fight is now estimated to be 1,000 to 1500. Native American casualty estimates, based on oral histories, vary from six to sixty.

Two Lakota individuals mentioned in both white and Indian accounts of the battle should be noted: one is Red Cloud’s nephew whose name is unknown; the other is a Miniconjou Sioux name Lipala. Both were killed during the battle, but they displayed unusual courage and leadership in their numerous attempts to defeat the corral defenders.

Wagon Box Fight, August 2, 1867
This monument is erected to perpetrate the memory of one of the famous battles of histor. It is dedicated to the courage and bravery of twenty-eight soldiers in Comany C.27th United States Infantry, and four civilians who held their improvised fort made of fourteen ordinary wagon-boxes, against 3000 Sioux warriors, under the leadership of Red cloud for a period of six or seven hours under continuous fire. the number of indians killed has been variously estimated from three hundred to eleven hundred. The following participated in this engagement: Capt. Jas. Powell, 1st Sgt. John M. Hoover, 1st Sgt. John H. Mcquiery, 1st Lt. John C. Jenness, corp. Max Littman, Corp. Francis Roberts, Privates: Wm. Baker, Ashton Barton, wm. Black Nolan, Chas. Brooks, Alexander Brown, Dennis Brown, John Buzzard, Frederick Clause, John Condon, Thomas Doyle, V. Deming, John Grady, John M. Garreett, Henry Gross, Samuel Gibson, Henry Haggerty, Mark Haller, Phillip C. Jones, Freeland Phillips, John L. Somers, Chas. A. Stevens, Julius Strache, 4 unknown civilians.

Battle, August 2, 1867
On August 2, 1867, 51 men of Company C, 27th Infantry under the command of Captain James Powell and Lieutenant John Jenness are assigned to the wood cutting detail. Fourteen of these men escort a wood train toward the fort. Another 13 are protecting wood cutters; nine at the upper pinery and four at the Little Piney Camp. While the soldiers at the corral prepared breakfast, the herders turned out the mules, and sentries took up position, the battle begins.

Crazy Horse and Hump led a small number of warriors across the hills to the west in a decoy attack on the Little Piney Camp. Here three soldiers are killed and the remaining wood cutters are chased into the mountains.

This attack is followed by attacks on the wood train at the upper pinery, and the mule herd.

Soldiers, drivers and wood cutters from the wood train and pinery escape into the mountains, but the mule herd is captured. Powell leads an attack to rescue the herders, as outlying sentries and hunters from the fort make for the safety of the corral. By nine o’clock 26 soldiers and six civilians are surrounded in the corral facing, by Powell’s estimate, 800 to 1000 warriors.

Indian spectators, including leaders, women, and children watch from the surrounding hills, as mounted warriors make the first attack, charging the corral from the Southwest. The Indians expect a volley from the soldiers who will then pause to reload, and the warriors will then overrun the corral. But the pause never occurs as the soldiers quickly reload their new rifles. Discouraged by the continuous fire the Indians withdraw. During the lull, the soldiers pass ammunition about the corral, holding it in their caps and the Indians prepare to charge on foot from behind the ridge to the north.

The second attack is made from behind the ridge to the north by warriors on foot while mounted warriors demonstrate to the south and snipers located along the rim fire into the corral.

During this attack all the casualties in the corral occur. But again the soldier’s firepower turns the Indians back. A third attack comes from the northeast. The soldiers hear loud chanting as Indians burst from cover singing their war song and surge to within a few yards of the corral before being turned back. The Indians again retreat to the protection of the rim, sniping at the corral as others attempt to retrieve the dead and wounded. The final attack comes on horse back from the southeast.

By now it is early afternoon and the fight has not gone unnoticed at the fort. Major Benjamin Smith leaves the fort with a relief column of 102 men and a mountain howitzer. As the column nears the corral, they fire on Indian spectators viewing from a high knob east of the corral. With the arrival of reinforcements for the soldiers, the Indians decide to withdraw and the Wagon Box Fight ends.

Wood Cutting: A Hazardous Harvest
Though construction of Fort Phil Kearny was complete by August of 1867, the need of wood for burning and alterations continued. Colonel John E. Smith, the post commander, located wood cutting camps on Big and Little Piney Creeks five miles west of the fort. A company of infantry armed with the 50-70 Allin Conversion Rifle (a converted Springfield musket, which was breach-loading and fired metal cased cartridges) were assigned to protect the cutters and wood train. Their duties were rotated with other companies on a monthly basis. The soldiers operated out of a camp located at a corral built by the wood contractors to hold the mules at night. The corral was made of 14 wagon boxes, removed from the running gears, and placed in an oval measuring 30’ by 70’. It was located on a plateau between Big and Little Piney Creeks, at the junction of the wood roads, and visible from Pilot Knob, a lookout point near the fort. One box at the west end of the corral and another on the south side were covered to protect the supplies for the soldiers and civilains. An additional supply wagon was located ten feet to the west. The soldiers and civilains slept in tents ouside of the corral.

To Save The Powder River Country
In July, 1867, many Lakotas of the Ogalala, Miniconjou and Sans Arc tribes gathered with the Cheyennes along the Rosebud Valley to participate in the sacred Sun Dance ceremony. After fulfilling the religious duties, the headmen and fighting chiefs turned their attention once more to warfare against the Bozman Trail Forts.

One year of fighting had failed to drive the soldiers from the Powder River country. Small groups of warriors struck during the spring and summer, but there had been no victory to equal the winter battle known as “One Hundred in the Hands,” which had annihilated Fetterman’s soldiers near Fort Phil Kearny. Now, with almost one thousand fighting men concentrated on the Rosebud, the Indian leaders planned another great battle. Disagreement over which fort to attack led to a split in the Indian forces. Most of the Cheyennes would go to attack Fort C.F. Smith, while the Lakota and some Cheyenne chose Fort Phil Kearny.

Led by Crazy Horse, Hump, Thunderhawk, Ice and other war leaders, hundreds of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors rode to their destiny in battle. Traveling with them were Red Cloud, Flying By, other older headmen, and many woman and children. All hoped fo a great victory that would save and protect the land.

A Fight To Survive (See diagram)
Inside the corral the small body of soldiers expected defeat and the same fate as Fetterman’s command. As they took up positions of their choosing, between, behind, or inside the wagon boxes, the men prepared for the worst. Some removed their shoe laces so that the string could be used to attach their toe to the rifle trigger when the end was near. Others stockpiled ammunition and weapons. While the Allin Conversion was the most prominent weapon of the fight, Spencer carbines and an assortment of pistols were also used. Some accounts indicate that only the marksmen fired while others reloaded the rifles for them. During the fight Powell gave few orders other than an initial command of “shoot to kill.” Jenness took up a position in the covered box with four civilians. It is reportedly here that after being told to keep down, Jenness replied “I know how to fight Indians” and promptly fell dead of a head wound.

Acts of valor were quite common in the corral. A private named Max Littman stepped from the safety of the corral to give covering fire for the retreating sentries at the beginning of the fight. On two occasions Privates Sam Gibson and John Grady ventured from the corral, once to knock down tents which were obscuring the field of fire, and a second time to retrieve water for the thirsting defenders. Indian fire arrows ignited the dry hay and manure, which, combined with the hot August sun and gun powder smoke, made conditions in the corral miserable. In the corral, in addition to death of Lieutenant Jenness, Privates Haggerty and Doyle were killed, and two others wounded.

  1. Pvt. Gibson (drawing based on his descriptions)
  2. Pvt. Gradey
  3. Sgt. Hoover
  4. Captain Powell
  5. Max Littman (behind a barrel of beans, he provided cover fire as Gibson retreated to the corral)
  6. Private Condon (behind a barrel of salt)
  7. Lieut. Jenness killed
  8. Bullwackers (6 civilians were in fight)
  9. Bullwackers (6 civilians were in fight)
  10. Private Doyle killed
  11. Private Haggerty killed
  12. Somers wounded in wagon box
  13. Grain stored and used as protection in corral
  14. Ammunition placed about corral, men would retreive it in their hats to their firing position.
  15. A horse and mule were tied in the corral, they died of wounds suffered during the fight
  16. Using fire arrows, Indians set fire to manure and straw within the corral, causing discomfort for the defenders
  17. Civilian and soldier tents
  18. Coffee pots containing the only water available during the fight
  19. Supply Wagon

Valor in Attack
The Indian leaders had hoped the soldiers would pursue a small decoy party of warriors led by Hump into an ambush, but the soldiers refused to follow, and the last pickets retreated safely into the corral after wounding the Ogalala warrior Paints Yellow. The side camp was taken and some soldiers killed, but now the only option for quick success was to launch massed attacks at the corral, and hope to overrun the soldiers’ improvised wagon box fortress.

Soon, mounted warriors circled around the corral. Using their horses as shields, they quickly rode in close to fire arrows or guns, and then zigzagged away from the soldiers’ rifles. During the first attack from the south, Hairy Hand, a Miniconjou, rode straight at the corral to count coup. Hit by a soldier’s bullet, he laid out in the open until a young warrior named White Bull ran in and dragged him to safety. The mounted charge failed, and the war leaders Crazy Horse of the Ogalalas and Hump of the Miniconjous organized the warriors for an assault on foot. As the foot charge moved toward the corral, the Ogalala Only Man rushed ahead, almost reaching the wagon boxes before the bullets killed him. The attack stalled, and some warriors concealed themselves in the brush and started firing into the corral with guns captured during the battle of One Hundred in the Hands. These snipers inflicted most of the casualties suffered by the soldiers.

During a lull before the next attack, one of the bravest acts of the day took place. Jipala, a tall, impressive Miniconjou, walked toward the corral, carrying a shield, lance and bow. Singing his death song, he ran forward, jumping in the air and firing arrows at the corral. Finally, the soldiers bullets found him, and he lay dead before the corral. Both warriors and soldiers talked of his bravery for many years to come.

Two more Miniconjous, Muskrat Stands of His Lodge and Packs His Leg, died in foot charges. During the final attack, the Lakota Young Duck was shot dead leading the assault, and three of his people wounded attempting to recover his body.

Once more, the warriors attempted a mounted charge, but the soldiers’ guns kept up a fierce fire. The assault ended before reaching the corral, but not before Sun’s Road of the Cheyennes was killed. His death was the last of the day.

The boom of Smith’s howitzer signaled the end of fighting. As the Lakota and Cheyennes left the battlefield, they paused near local springs to care for their wounded and dead before moving north to their camps.

Red Cloud’s Victory
By 1868 the Union Pacific Rail Road had been completed through southern Wyoming and northern Utah and a new and shorter road ran north to the southwestern Montana gold fields. The Bozeman Trail became obsolete. The U.S. Government once again sought negotiations with the Lakota and Cheyenne, hoping for a solution to the fighting along the trail. Red Cloud refused to talk until the forts and the trail were abandoned, but others did negotiate and a treaty was settled upon. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 stipulated that in exchange for the military abandoning the forts along and the use of the Bozeman Trail, the Lakota would accept for their reservation the western half of South Dakota from the Missouri River to the Black Hills. The Powder River country was to remain unceded Indian land, open for hunting by all tribes. The United States Government signed this treaty as did several bands of Lakota, but it was not until the forts were actually abandoned that Red Cloud finally signed in October of 1868. For the Lakota and Cheyenne, even though greater conflicts lay in the years ahead, the Powder River Country had been saved.

Continuing Controversies
Over the years a controversy has arisen about the exact location of the Wagon Box Corral, Indian casualties, and the length of the battle. The most disputed fact is the location of the corral. In the early 1900’s area residents brought survivors of the fight, both Indian and white, to the area in hopes of pinpointing the exact location of the corral. Unfortunately, the survivors were not at the site at the same time and did not agree on the location. One site chosen is the location laid out near where you are standing. The other location is a brass marker several hundred yards to the southeast. There has been much study in an attempt to resolve this debate, including correspondence with early residents, aerial photography, and archaeological surverys. The strongest evidence come from archaeology done over several years, which indicates that the laid out corral may be close to correct. But if the actual participants could not agree on a location, then the best and most accurate description of the location of the corral is to say that it was placed somewhere atop the plateau, between Big and Little Piney Creeks. As to the other controversies, Indian casualties can probably be estimated at between six and sixty and the time of the fight from 8:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. As with all historical events research will continue and new facts will come to the surface.

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